People often ask about the difference between the three psychs – psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy. While there are major differences, there are also crossovers so the explanation below is very general.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have undertaken extra training in physiologically caused mental disorders. They tend to work with personality disorders and more serious mental health issues and are the only mental health clinicians who are able to prescribe medications.
Psychology can be defined as the scientific study of behaviour and many (although not all) practice a form of psychological treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which aims to change behaviour and thoughts. This is generally short term work and research shows that whilst it can be effective in the immediate term, it is less effective for deeper long lasting healing.
Psychotherapy aims to develop a deeper understanding of emotional issues by bringing to light feelings and thoughts which may be hidden or unconscious. A psychotherapist aims to walk alongside you rather than “treating” you, as psychotherapy (and neuroscientific research) sees emotional difficulties as having generally evolved from our early relationships and therefore needing to be healed through relationship. Psychotherapists, therefore, undertake extensive therapy of their own in order to be able to be fully present with their client and to be able to separate their issues from yours.
Whether you choose to see a psychotherapist or a psychologist, it is very important that you ensure that they have appropriate training and accreditation. A psychotherapist should have a three to five year training in psychotherapy and be accredited by the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. This body insists on a certain level of training and professional requirements, and has established a register for qualified practitioners. You might also find out if they have been involved in their own long term process of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. Practitioners who have done this work themselves are likely to have a much better understanding of what their clients are going through.