Who is what and why

Someone asked what is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. There are other helping professionals too. They have different levels of education and licensing, and in bipolar disorder it’s important to make sure you get the right one.

Psychiatrists are real medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental disorders. After getting a real medical degree they went back and took more courses, then did their internship in psychiatry – well, some are only “board certified,” meaning that they took the exams after the fact. Look at the diplomas. Psychiatrists are the only mental health care professionals who can prescribe drugs *in most states.* They are – and there’s no question here – the only people who are qualified to distinguish between organic disease and mental disorders.

A psychologist has a PhD, also called a doctorate, in the study of psychology. It is very important to remember that even though you call the psychologist “Doctor” he or she is NOT a medical doctor. He probably did an internship in which he did quick evaluations as to mental status. And he’s not qualified to dispense medications because he doesn’t have to have even basic medical training. He isn’t even qualified to put a bandaid on a boo-boo. He certainly isn’t qualified to diagnose physical illnesses – bipolar disorder is associated with brain chemicals, and that’s a medical issue. He is required to send you to a psychiatrist for that. NOT to a nurse practitioner or even a GP. A psychologist is versed in sociology and culture, and their job is to help you gain insight into the experiences that made you whow you are. This is called psychoanalysis or depth therapy. And of course to *adjust* to your circumstances in life.

A psychotherapist is a person who tries to do the same things that the psychologists do. Obviously psychologists and psychiatrists do short-term psychotherapy. Some psychotherapists, however, hold a Master’s Degree in something else. Social workers – MSWs – are trained to hook people up with the right resources, but they often get involved in helping people identify and solve their problems. EdD’s – doctors of Education – again, not medical doctors or even psychologists – often perform psychotherapy. Caveat Emptor: if someone is going to do psychotherapy on you, make sure they’ve gone through it themselves. And make sure they’ve gone through it successfully. Oh, and try to get one from your culture so that they don’t try to cure you of your race or religion. If a psychotherapist other than your own psychiatrist starts giving you a hard time about your meds, think about switching one or the other. Psychotherapists, I like to say, are the gatekeepers of Consensus Reality.

A therapist is a person who helps you make changes in your life – but you have to want to change. 🙂 They aren’t qualified to do depth psychotherapy and may rely on doubtful modalities – you know, pop psychology out of the latest book by the latest guru.

A counselor helps clients solve problems in specific areas – marriage, career, that sort of thing. Most of the time they have Master’s degrees, in some states they don’t have to.

I hope this motivates you to check the credentials of your mental health professionals. It is absolutely essential to do so if you want to heal rather than spend the rest of your life helpless and hopeless.



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