Psychiatry, Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy: What to Expect

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Psychiatry and psychology are overlapping professions. Practitioners in both — psychiatrists and psychologists — are mental health professionals. Their area of expertise is the mind — and the way it affects behavior and well-being. They often work together to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental illness. And both are committed to helping people stay mentally well.

But there are differences between psychiatry and psychology. And people sometimes find those differences confusing, especially when they are looking for help. To make matters even more confusing, psychiatrists and psychologists aren’t the only mental health professionals you can choose from. There are mental health counselors, social workers, nurses and nurse practitioners, and others who deal with issues of mental health. And if you consider the multiple approaches to treatment, ranging from counseling to various forms of phobia trigger to desensitize a person to an unreasonable fear.

Cognitive Therapy. The emphasis in cognitive therapy is on a person’s thoughts. The idea is that dysfunctional thinking is what leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. The goal is to help the person recognize unhealthy thinking patterns and to recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.

Humanistic Therapy. This approach to therapy is based on the idea that people are capable of making rational choices and developing their maximum potential. This approach to therapy is often client centered, with the client being seen as the authority on what is going on inside.

Integrative or Holistic Therapy. This approach relies on integrating multiple approaches to therapy based on the client’s individual needs. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy is a combination of the two individual therapies and focuses on both thought and behavior.

Getting Started With a Mental Health Professional

Finding the right mental health professional and the right approach to therapy is as important as finding the right medical doctor. Whether you are planning to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist or another type of mental health professional, you should start with a phone call to the professional. Ask about the professional’s approach to dealing with mental issues and how they generally work with clients. Ask about whether or not they accept insurance and how payments are handled. You might describe your reason for wanting to make an appointment and ask if they are experienced in dealing with such issues. If you are comfortable talking with them, the next step is to make an appointment.

At your first office visit, the mental health professional will want to talk with you about why you think you need to come to therapy. They will want to know about what your symptoms are, how long you’ve had them and what, if anything, you’ve done about them in the past. They will probably ask you about your family and your work as well as what you do to relax. This initial conversation is important in developing the appropriate approach to treatment. Before you leave the office, the mental health professional should describe to you the plan for treatment and give you an opportunity to ask any questions you might have.

It will likely take several weeks before you become fully comfortable with your therapy. If you still aren’t feeling comfortable after two or three visits, let the mental health professional know and explain why you feel that way. The two of you need to work together as a team in order to get the most out of your treatment.