Choose Between Psychotherapy and Other Treatments
Some clients ask me about the differences between psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors. It can be quite confusing, as the actual work with the client might be very similar. I've written a fairly simplistic way to think of it here.
Psychiatrists begin their training with medical degrees and are the only mental-health practitioners that can prescribe medications. They also deal with people who have serious mental illnesses and those that need hospitalisation for their treatment. Although the prescription of medications for their patients is common, some also rely on ‘talk therapy' as part of their treatment.
Psychologists are university-educated, and many practice a form of psychological treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This treatment often occurs over a fixed number of sessions, with a primary orientation towards treatments for anxiety, phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other psychological conditions where the psychologist perceives an imbalance between the real world and their client’s perception of it. CBT has its place – it is one of the techniques that I sometimes use when appropriate – but research indicates that it isn't always the best approach.
Psychologists often specialise in the type of clients that they see; some may label some of the work they do as psychotherapy or counselling. Many psychologists don’t actually see clients but are involved in research, work for corporations or teach in universities.
Psychotherapists and counsellors
Psychotherapists and counsellors are generally a lot more varied in terms of the type work that they do, their training and their professional orientation. Psychotherapists are often associated with medium to long-term treatment that include the cognitive and emotional world of the client. On the other hand, counsellors tend to focus on short to medium term work with an emphasis on people’s cognitive systems.
To further confuse things, when a psychiatrist or psychologist does long-term depth work that is based on talking to clients, they can label this work psychotherapy or counselling.
Getting the right help
Unfortunately, almost anyone can call themself a psychotherapist or counsellor. To counter this, the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) insists on specific standards. This includes basic training and professional requirements, and has established a register for qualified practitioners. I am proud to be on this register (PACFA Reg. 21861). It is always a very good idea to check out the qualifications of anyone advertising themselves as a counsellor or a psychotherapist before you start to see them.
Find out if they have been involved in their own long term psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. Counsellors and psychotherapists who have done this work are likely to understand themselves better; because of this, they can have a much better understanding of what their clients are going through.
I firmly believe that my clients are helped by the personal care and intellectual rigour that psychotherapy offers.