By Gladys K. Mwiti, PhD
Consulting Clinical Psychologist & Trauma Specialist
Founder & CEO
Many people wonder – Is there any difference between psychology and psychiatry? Where does counseling come in? When I am struggling with issues of life, who should I see? Do I see a counselor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist? Let us begin with some definitions:
Who are psychologists and what do they do?
Psychologists are individuals who study normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and observing, interpreting and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments (APA 1996). There are different branches of psychology, for example: clinical psychology, counseling psychology and, educational psychology, all using their specialties to meet the needs of society.
Clinical psychologists are mental health specialists who integrate the science and theory of psychology as well as clinical knowledge in preventing and relieving psychological suffering. They specialize in assisting individuals struggling with emotional, behavioral and mental distress. Treatment or psychotherapy uses a plan where the individual is assisted to change thought patterns that support negative feelings and behavior. Clinical psychology training programs can be described as scientist-practitioner models that integrate three domains in psychology: scholarship, clinical practice, and the integration of science, especially using evidence-based methodologies in that practice (Overholser, 2009). Clinical psychologists are not medical doctors so they cannot prescribe medication.
Clinical psychologists are trained to conduct assessment to determine specific diagnosis of mental health problems, for example, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders. Some of the mental health problems can be handled in psychotherapy but chronic illness like schizophrenia is best handled by a psychiatrist. A psychologist will refer clients to a psychiatrist if medication is needed to ease symptoms as psychotherapy continues. If at any time, you are referred to a psychiatrist for medication, it is important that you continue with psychotherapy even as you take the medication.
Counseling psychologists share some common areas with clinical psychologists in that they provide psychotherapy to individuals struggling with psychological, emotional and behavioral disturbances. Counseling psychologists focus more on healthy individuals while a clinical psychologist gets deeper into diagnosis and treatment planning especially for those with serious mental struggles. Counseling psychology training programs mainly adopt the scientist–practitioner training model, which stresses the mutual integration of science and practice (Kison, Moorer & Hurlocker, 2015).
Educational psychologists work within the education system examining how psychological factors affect teaching and learning. They might assist in testing various students’ abilities and designing appropriate learning materials and strategies.
Counseling is usually brief and offers emotional support to an individual who is experiencing stressful life situations. The client is assisted to process feelings, experiences or behavior related to the distress to facilitate positive change. Psychotherapy is a longer, more structured relationship between therapist and client.
Who are psychiatrists and what do they do?
Psychiatrists begin their studies as medical doctors then specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They begin their study in medicine then specialize in the workings of the human brain. This means that psychiatrists have a deep understanding of physical and mental health – and how they affect each other.
What treatments does a psychiatrist provide?
Psychiatrists provide urgent care for those who experience sudden mental illness and the treatment generally helps people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addiction. They diagnose if one is suicidal or homicidal – harboring thoughts of hurting other people. After diagnosis, psychiatrists provide psychological treatment and prescribe medications.
Psychologists and psychiatrists work together through cross-referrals to help clients. They also offer practical advice about diet, sleep and other ways you can help yourself get better. Moreover, they will provide the client with information about their condition, which can help the individual to understand their symptoms and treatments as well as remind them of the need to maximize their other life supports to manage and sustain their mental wellness.
Mental Health as Prevention of Mental Illness
Some developed nations have a sector of public health that specifically deals with public mental health (PMH). However, in developing nations, whereas public health focuses on responses towards communicable and uncommunicable disease, such initiatives have failed to include mental health (Lindert, Bilsen, & Jakubauskiene, 2017). Instead of educating the public in prevention strategies, all that is reported is mortality rates. There is urgent need to educate the public regarding prevention of mental health challenges because suicide rates related to depression are on the increase as well as use of substances that often lead to domestic and community violence. Poor mental health negatively impacts physical wellness with the effects bearing on families, the community and society. It is for these reasons that public mental health and understanding of mental wellness should be a major priority for all.
When do I need to see a Psychologist?
Normal life has seasons, some good others not so good. Some are overwhelming while others are manageable. At such times, many of us practice self-care regimens – sharing our feelings with a caring person, exercising, eating and sleeping well, engaging in positive thinking and prayer, meditation or reading the Scriptures to connect with God. We also ensure that we remain connected? in touch with a caring community. When we do all this and still symptoms persist, it is good to seek the services of a counseling psychologist or clinical psychologist.
Healthline.com shares that when we experience loss and deep grief persists for a long time, when stress and anxiety lead to social isolation and consistent depression, when we begin experiencing irrational fears that interfere with our normal functioning, we need to consult a psychologist. Even in physical ailment, we are advised to practice natural remedies to the flu or stomach upset. However, when symptoms persist, the advice is to seek medical advice.
In addition to personal challenges, we also need the help of a psychologist when families and relationships become difficult and/or when we cannot beat the cravings of an addiction. Some psychologists assist in employee wellness for work stress, job loss, retirement anxieties as well as conflict at the workplace.
Does Medical Insurance pay for my services?
In Kenya, many insurance companies have slowly realized that mental health and physical health are intricately related and that none of these can be ignored. To this end, mental wellness is now included in many medical insurance packages. Confirm this reality with your provider.
Which insurance companies does Oasis Africa service?
Oasis Africa offers mental health, psychosocial support and trauma healing services to clients insured with the following seven (7) insurance companies: APA, UAP, Heritage, Madison, Pacific, CIC and AON Minet.
Kison, S.D., Moorer, K.D. & Hurlocker, M. (2015). The integration of science and practice: Unique perspectives from counseling psychology students. Counselling Psychology Quarterly 28, 3. DOI: 10.1080/09515070.2015.1060193.
Lindert, J., Bilsen, J. & Jakubauskiene, M. (2017). Public Mental Health. European Journal of Public Health, 27, 32–35, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckx163.
Overholser, J. C. (2009). Ten Criteria to Qualify as a Scientist-Practitioner in Clinical Psychology: An Immodest Proposal for Objective Standards. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 40, 51-59. DOI: 10.1007/s10879-009-9127-3