The Psychiatrist, Psychologist, and Psychoanalyst: The Differences Between the Three P's

So, you're feeling stressed out. Everything needs your attention all at once. You might even be feeling a bit depressed. You decide to go talk to someone, but whom do you talk to? A friend tells you to go to a psychiatrist. Your sister suggests that you see a psychologist. A co-worker mentions that she went to a psychoanalyst. So to add to your stress, you now have to figure out the differences between each of these "P" words to know where to go for help.

Fortunately, you've stumbled across this helpful webpage. Read on to know the differences

The Psychiatrist
A psychiatrist is a physician who deals with mentally ill patients. Psychiatrists are MDs, so they can prescribe medication. As a result, they usually deal with clinical issues such as schizophrenia and manic-depression whose treatments tend to require medication.

The Psychologist
Psychologists, unlike psychiatrists, are not MDs, and they tend to deal more with emotional issues than with clinical issues. For example, a person experiencing low self-esteem would visit a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist because they do not have anything physically wrong with them; they just need to talk things out. A person with schizophrenia would visit a psychiatrist because they would need medication to correct the chemical imbalance in their brain.

The Psychoanalyst
Psychoanalysts follow Freud's theories that painful childhood memories contained in the subconscious are the cause of mental illness. Psychoanalysts are like psychologists in that they usually deal with emotional issues and do not prescribe medication. However, their approach is different from that of conventional psychologists. Psychoanalysis is a method of searching through a person's subconscious memories for the source of their current difficulties, rather than focusing on conscious memories. Psychoanalysts also tend to meet much more often with their clients. Rather than meeting only once a week (as is common with psychologists), they usually prefer to meet as often as three to five times a week.

How to Choose
Some people may use a combination of the above approaches at the same time. For instance, a patient may go to a psychiatrist for medication, but meet with a psychologist regularly to talk about their issues. Often this combination is pushed by HMOs for financial reasons.

As for "shopping" for someone to talk to, one way is to ask your family practitioner for a referral. You can also look for a social worker or therapist specializing in whatever issues you wish to talk about. Local clergy can be people to consult and talk to. Community health centers and clinics frequently offer low-cost care. If you are a student or employee, it is common to have access to psychological treatment through the school or employer. One note of caution: Employee Assistance Programs may not be confidential, despite the disclaimers. Frequently, when an employee goes for psychological assistance or evaluation, it ends up on the employee's permanent record.

If you are feeling like you need to talk to someone outside of your immediate circle about your concerns, feel free to consult with any of the above people. If you later feel that you don't need their services any longer, you can always cease treatment.

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