Sadly, many people are suffering unnecessarily as they are afraid to seek treatment out of ignorance and fear. Some have no idea that they do in fact have an illness that is diagnosable and treatable, while others feel a great mistrust for the psychiatric and psychological professions. Some people feel that both professions are a load of rubbish, often not knowing much about them, the distinction between the two, or that there is in fact a difference.
While a psychiatrist has a medical background and tends to concentrate on the more biological, chemical, or ‘brain-related’ side of mental illness, a psychologist uses ‘talking’ therapy to reveal underlying unresolved problems and to change thoughts and behaviour. A psychologist does not prescribe medication like a psychiatrist, but can recommend it if they feel it is necessary, in which case they will refer the client to a GP or psychiatrist.
Unfortunately due to the hardly illustrious history of the psychiatric treatment of mental illness in past centuries, many people still see psychiatrists as cold, unfriendly specialists, who treat disorders and not people and who view patients merely in terms of textbook theories with little concern for them as a person in the context of a family and an environment and the external stressors they struggle with.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that taking a pill is the only way to treat a illness, and that mere ‘talking’ cannot help.
The truth is that in the majority of cases, a combination of these two types of treatment is the most successful way to treat most disorders. Often drugs alone cannot do the difficult work that psychologists do. Due to the complexity of most of these disorders and the fact their cause is often a combination of biological, psychological and social factors, without an understanding of the person and their history, it is difficult to help them get better.
Medication and psychotherapy often complement one another. For example, sometimes people are too depressed to do psychotherapy, in which case medication is needed first. A good response to a drug will make them more amenable to searching for causes and trying to change their behaviour. Another example is that sometimes there are people who are very sensitive to medication and who experience terrible side effects. They have difficulty in finding a medication that works for them and which they are comfortable on. In cases like these, psychotherapy is another alternative.
Considering that almost all disorders have a number of different factors that contribute to their origin, the treatment of these disorders has taken on that approach too. It would be wise to view the various types of mental health professionals as one biopsychosocial profession, not disparate groups of psychopharmacologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists or social psychiatrists.
When treatment begins, whichever mental health professional has first contact, will affirm what you are feeling, how you are responding, and establish with you the appropriate approach to your problem. Together you will then develop a treatment plan which may involve a number of various mental health professionals to deal with all aspects of the problem. For example, you may see a psychiatrist for your medication, a psychologist for therapy and you may also join a support group.