Types of mental health experts (and when to seek who)

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Mental health can be a cause of major concern. While it is important to tackle this problem sensitively, it is equally vital to involve the right professional. We help you understand more about them.

The world around us is changing rapidly and we are facing mental stress due to the pandemic and its financial repercussions. Mental stress manifests itself in various forms and affects the quality of your life. You may introduce several lifestyle changes, such as starting a hobby, doing yoga, learning a musical instrument, and practicing meditation. However, you might need the help and guidance of a mental health professional.

If you have any physical illness, the general physician will examine your body and ask you to run some lab tests. Similarly, if you have symptoms of mental illness, the mental health expert will diagnose it and prescribe the right course of action. According to American Psychiatric Association, mental illness is defined as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” For proper treatment, it is important that your mental condition is correctly evaluated and diagnosed.

Mental illnesses affect:

• Productivity

• Relationships

• Physical health

• Social behaviour  

The good news is that mental illnesses can be treated. However there are a number of mental health experts. Understanding the domain of each type of mental health professional will go a long way in determining to whom to turn in times of need.

Types of mental health professionals

1. Psychologists

2. Psychiatrists

3. Counsellors

Let us look at their roles in detail

Psychologists: Psychologists study the impact of the mind on the body. A psychologist may hold a Master’s or a Doctorate degree in psychology with specialty in a specific arm of psychology. Some of the different types of specialties are health, sports, clinical, research, neuropsychological, behavioural and social development. Psychologists work with or in organisations and institutes to provide a supportive environment for employees/students. They counsel people and conduct mental assessment tests, which majorly help in setting and measuring goals during treatment. Psychologists have several assessment tools to aid them such as the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, Substance Abuse Screening Tool, Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, etc. These tools are generally a set of questions that help the expert evaluate the symptoms, behaviours and concerns of their patients.

Some psychologists may have an independent practice or work under a psychiatrist. Psychologists are not allowed to prescribe medicines. However they are bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. Depending upon the severity of the patient’s condition, they may be required to consult both a psychologist and a psychiatrist. You can rely on the services of a psychologist to help cope with behavioural problems.

Psychologists also specialise in psychotherapy (and are therefore called psychotherapists) and psychoanalysis.

Let us look at these aspects closely:

Psychotherapy is essentially ‘talk’ therapy. It is a part of psychoanalysis as well as treatments provided by psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychologists are trained to analyse the psychological needs of the patients after carefully listening to them. They will advise patients on making changes in their day-to-day life and help them manage their emotions more effectively. A psychotherapist can take a session with an individual, a family, couple or group.

Some of the well-known types of psychotherapy are:

• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

• Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

• Interpersonal Therapy

• Psychodynamic Therapy

• Psychoanalysis

• Supportive Therapy

• Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) 

• Exposure Therapy

• Interpersonal Therapy

• Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT)

• Animal-Assisted Therapy

• Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

• Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

• Music Therapy

• Brain Stimulation Therapy

• Art Therapy

The stereotype of the patient on a couch with the expert sitting next to them with a notepad is due to ‘talk’ therapy. It is true, though not mandatory. Letting the patient assume a comfortable sitting position is an important aspect of psychotherapy.

Another important aspect of a psychologist’s profile is psychoanalysis. According to Harvard Medical School, “Psychoanalysis is a method of treating emotional difficulties that involves communication between a psychoanalyst and an individual, with the goal of gaining insight into the individual’s inner world and how it affects his or her emotions, behavior, and relationships.” It involves the patient talking at length about their issues with the analyst and the latter evaluating the findings to arrive at a conclusion.

Psychoanalysis has its roots in Freudian principles of the power of the unconscious mind. During a session of psychoanalysis, the psychoanalyst will aim at getting insights into the cause of conflict. Followed by an in-depth analysis to discern behavioural patterns. Psychoanalysis is a lengthy process and can span over years. “Distressing symptoms such as phobias, anxieties, and depression also respond to psychoanalysis, sometimes with the help of a medication,” says an article published by Harvard Medical School.

Certain long term or recurring problems require psychoanalysis. Strained relationship with your spouse resulting in constant arguing and quarreling, issues arising due to generation gap between parents and children, issues in tackling authority figures at workplace, concerns about finding a partner, issues affecting workplace camaraderie, confusion regarding choosing the right career path and many such problems can be addressed with psychoanalysis.

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specialises in psychiatry. They diagnose and treat mental illnesses in people. They can treat mental conditions such as depression, anorexia, addiction and schizophrenia. The course of treatment involves diagnosis, counselling, medication and therapy. They are authorised to conduct all the tests and therapies that are done by psychologists.

However, a psychiatrist can do much more, too, as they are qualified to carry out procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy.

You might consult a psychiatrist for the following conditions:

1. Stress related issues

2. Suicidal thinking

3. Sleep related issues

4. Hallucinations

5. Additions such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc

6. Memory related issues

7. Violence (towards self and others)

8. Genetic conditions such as autism

Counselor: A counselor is someone who is trained to provide informed advice to people undergoing some sort of problems leading to mental health issues. Counselors specialise in different areas such as career development, anger management, relationship management etc. Schools or institutes, corporate offices and other establishments might have an in-house counselor to assist people with their problems. Counselors can work with individuals, groups or families depending on the case at hand. Understanding your issue and consulting the right mental health expert will go a long way in getting proper treatment for your condition. But remember, the first step towards doing this is to communicate with your loved ones. Taking the support of family and friends as well as mental health professionals is the appropriate way to treat mental illness.

Albot Health

Albot Health

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