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Psychologist or Psychiatrist – Who Is The Right “Go To” Professional?

Mental health has finally gained some much needed attention in India. In a country where till a few years back and in some parts maybe even today, mental only meant a mindless or mad person, mental disorders and their cure is now being talked about.

Almost two decades back not many people had probably even heard of mental disorders like depression, stress or anxiety. In case someone was suffering from any of these disorders, he would visit all kind of doctors thinking he was physically sick, doctors would get all his medical tests done and when nothing would be diagnosed the patient would visit all kinds of astrologers, healers & God-men and keep on suffering till things changed or came to an end.

Times have changed and now quite a lot of people are more aware of the mental concerns and when the symptoms persist or become unbearable, they sometimes seek help.

And when they seek help, they mostly visit the psychiatrists who are medical practitioners who treat mental disorders by prescribing medicines. They diagnose the illness by listening to the symptoms and sometimes by conducting some tests and prescribe medicines as treatment. Antidepressants for depression, mood stabilizers for bipolar and other mood disorders, anti anxiety pills for anxiety and sedatives for almost everything.

But is medicine the real cure for the illnesses or issues that get triggered or aggravated because of a person’s mindset, attitude, thinking pattern, emotions, beliefs and influences? Can a few doses of dopamine and serotonin alone cure the causes behind the depressive state of a person which probably got prompted or provoked because of a financial loss or heartbreak and his own reaction to it?

The answer is no, medicines aren’t the treatment of mental disorders. Medicines are temporary cure of the symptoms and give immediate and temporary relief to the sufferers, who are both the patient and his family.

The permanent or long lasting solution is curing the causes of the disorder and it is the job of a psychotherapist who is an expert in human psychology and uses psychology to find out the causes and cure the disorders.

The psychiatrists are also trained to do psychotherapy, in layman language counseling, which means treatment of mental disorders through psychology and not medicine. But there are many psychiatrists who prefer giving medicines because medicines are easier to prescribe whereas therapies are time consuming and needs expertise and empathy.

Then who provides psychotherapy? Another professional called psychologist is trained and qualified to do that.

A psychologist is an expert in human psychology and psychology is the scientific study of the human mindset, behavior and actions and the factors affecting the same.

There is another big difference in psychiatry and psychology. Psychiatry is the study and treatment of mental illnesses which is one of the many areas of psychology and psychology is the study and treatment of human behavior, mental attitudes and mindset which also give birth to mental illnesses.

Point here is that mental illnesses are mostly caused because of the mindset and attitude prone to that illness and are triggered by the circumstances that negatively affect the illness prone psyche.

Understand this with an example of a 30 years old person, Amit. Amit is a very ambitious person who wants to achieve big in life. He started a business which was doing well and Amit was proud of his work but now due to the lockdown and its effects Amit’s business has suffered huge losses. As a result Amit has started feeling very low and hopeless, he cannot sleep properly at night, feels anxious and agitated.

If Amit decides to visit a psychiatrist, the latter will diagnose his problem as depression and prescribe medicines for the same.

If Amit chooses to see a psychologist, this professional will empathetically listen to him, diagnose his psyche by conducting a personality test and some other psychological tests and by interviewing him and will give him therapy or counseling. The psychologist will be able to understand that Amit is a result oriented, ambitious person with a high Emotional Quotient and hates facing failures. His business losses have caused him stress and anxiety which have led him to his depressed state of mind.

A good psychologist will not label him as depressed but will comfort him with the knowledge that it is normal and natural to feel low in such a scenario. He will alter his mindset by showing him a positive side to the current problem, give him hope and suggest ways to relax his mind and use his mental and emotional strength and intelligence to find opportunities in adversity.

A good psychologist is an empathetic, non-judgmental listener and an expert counsel and advisor who can change the thought process, perceptions and beliefs of a patient by giving the relevant therapy and thus can teach him to deal with the highs and lows of life.

A good psychologist counsels, guides, mentors, motivates and does almost everything but does not give medicine.

And medicines do nothing that a psychologist does. Medicines do not listen to a person’s worries and anxieties, they do not offer new insights and viewpoints, they do not turn a negative thinker into a positive thinker, they do not give hope and faith.

Medicines only alter the chemicals in mind but mental illnesses are not only the result of chemical imbalances. Chemical imbalance does play a role but it too is an effect of change in mental state and thought process of the person.

If dopamine and serotonin are feel good chemicals they also get released when a person is relaxed, eats and sleeps well and feels good.

So why not change the patient’s attitude, lifestyle and life itself for his betterment and make him better equipped to live a peaceful and joyful life.

The psychiatrists who are also trained to do psychotherapy can use the therapy sessions and cure the causes. If they do they are your “go to professionals” for mental health.

The actual debate is not psychologist or psychiatrist, but therapies or medicines.

Mental illness patient doesn’t know what is the right treatment. He follows his doctor and he too prefers getting the prescription as medication is easy to be administered whereas therapies involve changing lifestyle, way of thinking and mental and emotional transformation.

Little do they know that their illness is actually a signal that the ongoing way of life is doing them harm and needs some change and transformation.

Medicines may make you feel good for some time but they in no way transform your life. Rather they make you dependent upon them and their prolonged use have many side effects which are harmful for the body as well as mind.

So in case you ever choose to visit a psychiatrist ask him/her if you will be given therapy sessions and not just medicines. If the psychiatrist downplays the role of therapy or introduces you to a young intern as your counselor, go somewhere else as your therapist needs to have a good experience of own life to help you deal with yours.

In some illnesses medicines are important. They are maniac disorder, acute depression and schizophrenia as in these cases the patient is not in the right mental state to go through the therapies and benefit from them. In these mental illnesses the medication improves the patient’s condition and then therapy becomes more effective.

In all other cases counseling or therapy alone is sufficient. Other than curing illnesses, psychotherapy or counseling has many other benefits too.

Mental illnesses are never immediate, rather they take years to reach the stage when they get noticed. That’s because they get attention when the worst becomes apparent.

No one gets depressed overnight or suffers from an anxiety disorder in a day. People have tendencies to be depressed and anxious and to a good observer and an empath it would show at a much earlier stage.

For your knowledge, people who are more emotional and intellectual are more prone to being depressed and anxious because overthinking is a big cause of these mental conditions. So actually there is nothing wrong with being occasionally low and worried.

Mental issues are actually oversold as illnesses to sell the chemicals. Naming the illnesses and labeling the patient helps in selling the chemicals.

Out of the hundreds of mental disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the official book of mental disorders, it is possible for every person to have at least one or more disorders.

If you have a mind then you will occasionally have an ailment of mind.

In the long human life span of 60 – 70 years, there will be many tough times which can make even the strongest of minds to become worried and low. What we need in these times is not to be labeled sick for life but an empathetic listener and guide who can teach us to accept the tough times as a part of life and take lessons from them and be strong again.

If you are going through a tough time and need help from another person’s perspective and expertise, go see a good psychologist or psychotherapist and take benefit from his unbiased and open minded counsel.

Psychologist do not just cure, they also do preventive counseling. They diagnose their patient’s personality and psyche and thus can say what kind of response the person’s psyche will give to certain circumstances.

Human mind is our very complex slave and its mastery is the key to a happy, peaceful and contented life.

A good psychologist can suggest many dos and don’ts to a person and can teach to live a conscious life in place of letting the unconscious to control the person’s thoughts, beliefs and actions.

There is reason that I have again and again written good psychologist/psychotherapist because like any other profession there are few not so good psychologists/psychotherapists too. A good psychologist can teach you to know, discover and discipline your mind to help you reach your full potential and live a peaceful existence.

A great psychologist will not make you dependent on him/her for long because his/her real job is to help you awaken the buddha inside you and help you become self sufficient in resolving your inner conflicts and be peaceful with life.

So next time when you are low, anxious, worried, aggressive, stressed or depressed, seek a good psychotherapist’s help and if you benefit from your interactions with him/her, make your therapist your regular ally and ask him/her to teach you mind management for life.