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Psychology vs. Psychiatry

When you need to see a helping professional for a mental health issue, finding the right person to help you can be difficult. One of the first things you need to determine is what kind of helping professional is the right one for you. Do you need to see a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or coach? This blog post will make it clear your options, and you should be better able to choose the right helping professional for your needs.

Psychology vs. Psychiatry
Both psychologists and psychiatrists can conduct psychotherapy sessions, but their training is different. Both are able to do research, and both often have specific areas of expertise with different populations or age groups. Psychologists with an emphasis in conducting psychotherapy sessions usually have a PsyD degree. They often conduct tests and evaluations of these measurements. Psychiatrists go to medical school which includes general medicine, and after a residency, they may choose a specific area of emphasis within the psychiatric stream. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, while psychologists do not.

Psychotherapists, like myself, have a Master’s degree and can conduct therapy sessions like psychologists and psychiatrists. They do not dispense medicine, but they may have experience or other degrees that may assist you with medication management. In my case, I am a Registered Nurse, so I often help your physician manage your medications, whether psychotropic or not. Psychotherapists also tend to specify their scope of practice as to who they are best at helping, and you should be able to see that list of conditions, issues, and age groups on a brochure or their website.

Coaching
Coaches come from a wide variety of backgrounds of which no particular college degree is required for practice. Depending on a coaches stated area of expertise and years of experience, a coach can usually help with issues and situations that require skill acquisition, decision making, and planning that do not include the investigation of the client’s emotional past. Coaches do not need to have any kind of psychology degree to practice, but they must show minimum competency to provide coaching services. There is currently no one way to become a coach, although there are now several certifying bodies, such as Coach U and the International Coach Federation, both of whom have provided ways for coaches who get training to be recognized and credentialed for their training. The US does not currently require coaches to be certified by either of these bodies. Because helping professionals who do professional licenses, such as psychotherapists, obtain the minimum competency required to be a coach, these professionals often make great coaches by adding on specific ways of focusing their work to the realm of coaching.

Which helping professional do you need? The answer depends on what you’re looking for. If you have a four-year-old child who won’t talk, you’ll likely want to do some tests and measurements; therefore, a child psychologist will likely be who you’ll seek for your child’s diagnosis. If you and your spouse are having marital difficulties and neither of you needs medication for a pre-existing psychiatric condition, you can choose from all three kinds of professionals, though a therapist may be all you need. If you’re a struggling with a career change late in life but you know your “issues”, career coaching sessions might be up your alley, while a therapist could help if part of your decision-making process requires you to delve into your personal blocks, anxieties, and concerns.

Finally, I get asked by friends about how to pick a “good” therapist, whether that’s a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychotherapist. Ultimately, it often has little to do with credentials. You’ll know you found the right one for you when that person makes you feel like you are heard, understood, and helps you come to a better understanding of your past, present, and future. When you feel your therapist in your “corner”, that’s usually the right therapist for you. The rest is situational: location of the therapist’s office, available hours, and cost of the sessions.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out this excerpt from WebMD:

Whose Therapy Is Best? Ask any of the three professionals who provide the best psychotherapy, they will all tell you their own specialty is the most skilled. You could have a great therapeutic relationship, or a bad experience, with any of them.

“The professional credentials alone don’t determine that someone would be helpful to any particular patient,” says Rebecca Curtis, PhD, a professor of psychology at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and director of research at the W.A. White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis in New York.

Nevertheless, she says experience and training matter at least as much as the therapist’s personal qualities and the relationship between the patient and the provider. She advises people to interview a potential therapist carefully. Although you may want to get right to talking about your issues, “ask them specifically about their training during the initial session,” she tells WebMD.

“Everybody thinks they can sit down and talk to people and be helpful,” she says, “but it really helps to have a lot of experience and training.”

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 29+ years in healthcare (20+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She is launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018), and is currently training for her third Ironman in August 2020; she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for two separate 100 Mile trail races in 2020. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, and cooking real food.

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