This is a very important topic and needs awareness. First of all, to understand
these two fields, let us try to understand, what is the difference between a
psychologist and a psychiatrist.
Although, these two titles sound very similar and you must have come across
these often but, you may not be entirely clear about their meanings. Both of these
are key professions in the field of mental health and help in diagnosing and
treating people living with mental health conditions but, they provide this help
and support in their own different ways.
Psychology is a scientific study of human mind and behaviour. It deals with the feelings, emotions, thinking pattern, behaviours and attitudes of human beings in different social settings. They are experts in human behaviours. On the contrary,
Psychiatry is a branch of medicine which deals in treating mental illnesses, emotional disturbances and any kind of abnormality in human behaviours. A psychiatrists hold a medical degree like, MD (doctor of medicine) and also a speciality in psychiatry. They look into biological and neurological abnormalities to diagnose any mental illnesses. Their medical degree also enables them to order medical tests and prescribe medicines to better understand and treat the symptoms.
The major difference between the two is their approach in treating mental illnesses. A psychiatrist will first take medication approach to treat the mental illness after the diagnosis is done and then, planning the course of treatment, focusses on managing symptoms with the help of medicines. He may also be trained in psychotherapies but in any typical mental health care setting, psychotherapies are generally the area of psychologists and is solely taken care of by them. They use different types of therapies to manage the symptoms and help the client to cope up with the challenges of life in an effective way. Psychologists are also qualified to conduct psychometrics test to evaluate a person’s mental state and personality attributes.
Because the main domain of the psychiatrists is medicine and their specialization is mental health, they are concerned with only that and so they work in settings like, hospitals, mental health clinics and private practice whereas, psychologists are human mind and behaviour experts so their domain is vast hence, it can be applied to all fields like Child and Adolescent Psychology, Criminal Psychology, Industrial and Organisational Psychology, Sports psychology, Educational Psychology etc. Therefore, Psychologists can choose any field of their interest and they don’t always work with mental disorders.
Psychiatrists treat chronic mental illnesses like, severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, autism whereas psychologists deal with people having behavioural issues, adjustment problems, learning disabilities, mild depression and anxiety.
Now, the question is, which is more beneficial, counselling or medicine?
Therapies have proven to have more lasting effect than psychotropic medication and the reason being is that, they teach you coping skills. They help you to identify your negative thinking pattern and create an insight as to how you can replace these negative thoughts with the positive ones. When you go through psychotherapy, you learn your triggers that make you behave in a particular way in a particular social environment, for example, a person with social anxiety is afraid to go in social gatherings, so with the help of psychotherapy, he or she can understand what triggers this fear, and once these triggers are identified, the person can learn coping skills to face these with the help of therapy. These approaches teach skills that are lifelong and give you a better life because you will be able to apply these if in case the triggers return at some point of your life in future too. Unlike some psychotropic medications, psychotherapy is not addictive and has been proved to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression more effectively than medicines.
Medication, on the contrary are easy and a quicker way to reduce the symptoms but for a shorter duration, especially when the case is severe. They help in protecting the brain cells from getting damaged by mental disorders. They also help in balancing the chemicals in the brain called as neurotransmitters which results in reducing the symptoms. Medicines are cheaper and less time consuming than psychotherapy and so, seem more attractive because of our busy life schedules.
Apart from having these plus points, some psychotropic medicines have very adverse side effects if taken in the long run, which people ignore. These medicines are prescribed on trial and error basis, which means that these can be changed if the symptoms do not reduce or if the person complains of some side effects. The common side effects of these medicines are: Headaches, blurred vision, weight gain, dizziness, low energy, extreme tiredness, constipation, dry mouth, muscular pains, irritability, sleepiness or sleeplessness, feeling numb, loss of appetite and mood swings, low sexual drive. In some cases, the side effects can be major like liver injury or kidney damage, loss of memory, involuntary movements of mouth, lips, tongue and sometimes the arms and legs also.
We have understood how therapy and medication, being the key professions in the field of mental health, use different approaches to treat people with mental disorders, where medicines are believed to have adverse side effects on the body if taken for longer period of time and therapy having a long lasting positive impact on the overall well-being of an individual.
The dilemma is, whether medicines are totally a bad idea for treating mental disorders or counselling is the best option? Or, What about a combination of both, medication and therapy?
Studies have also shown that, medicines and psychotherapy, if taken in a combined way lead to better and positive outcomes. For example, a person with chronic depression or schizophrenia, will not be able to handle counselling or therapy alone because of their severe symptoms. In this case, the person will be first given medication to pacify the chronic symptoms and once this happens, counselling or psychotherapy intervenes to generate insight. This combination of both gives a very positive result and helps the person to lead a better and satisfying life.
The conclusion is, both the fields have a fundamental role to play in treating the individuals living with mental illnesses. Along with it, there’s a dire need to understand that medication should be strictly taken as prescribed by the psychiatrist and should not be stopped without his permission. Also, lack of awareness about the side effects of these medicines can be dangerous, therefore, talk to your psychiatrist before taking any medicine and keep him informed about the side effects that you might have so that, necessary changes could be made in the treatment plan.
Counselling or Medicine, Psychologist or Psychiatrist, the main objective is to help, guide and support people to deal with their mental disorders in an effective way without any fear or taboo of being labelled as, “INSANE”
“Reach out, help is not far away.”