That is a question often asked when one suffers some mental issue or another. Films and magazines sway the public opinion towards a psychologist. They often depict the treatment, called therapy, as relaxing on a couch or in an armchair, outside of hospital environment and talking to a professional. Usually, we see a doctor-patient relationship and both parties call each other these names. Yet, we don’t see white medical robes or any sign of a medical office.
I had always thought the professional is a psychotherapist by practice and a psychologist by education. It turns out to be a mistake. Even though they don’t prescribe medicine or hospital stay, these therapists we see in films are psychiatrists. They study at a medical university along with all the rest on the craft – paediatricians, obstetricians, cardiovascular and internal disease doctors. They know about anatomy, biology and chemistry just as all the doctors we meet in more typical environments. After medical school, they go on to specialise, again like any other doctor does, in the so-called residence. That means they work full-time at a hospital or institution where they get familiar with lots of different real cases and get trained to treat patients independently.
So, when we’re mildly affected by a mental issue, who should we turn to? I used to see psychiatrists as doctors who would simply prescribe some drug to you which is sure to meddle with your sense and stability. It turns out, they actually undergo courses in psychotherapy, if they like, and then continue helping patients with sessions only or combining pills and talking sessions.
Then, when do we visit a psychologist and what can we expect her to treat? I would say, we do that when our marriage or parenting or relations in the office don’t work efficiently. We go to see a psychologist when we need a new perspective in some area in our everyday lives where we are stuck for one reason or another. We don’t do it when we are depressed or suicidal, just as we don’t go to the pub owner for a cure when we have the flu or a toothache. In those latter cases, we visit medical doctors, of the speciality we need.
We must face it, though – a lot of people do exactly that. When they are sick, they seek advice and help at various places, but at the doctor’s. It’s hard to imagine they would do differently when it concerns their mental health.
I am a psychologist and am deeply interested in therapy and ways to help people. At the same time, I know doctors have a great advantage compared to me because they know of hormones, enzymes, physiology and nerves, among other things. I, on the other hand, can simply improvise and imagine things. Things which can do more harm than good. That is why I know I’m helpless in a lot of situations. Like all psychologists in the world.
I hope more people will realise that.