Finding the right type of mental-health support can be difficult. Many areas within the psychological services can seem very similar and overlap in many ways. The range of terminology out there can be confusing to say the least. Add to this that we usually only look for this help when we are in extreme emotional distress.
These factors all combine to mean that we very often take the first help that comes our way, without really understanding whether it’s the right one, and we hope for the best.
However, our first experience of psychological support can often determine our rate and depth of recovery and our overall impression of this type of help. So if the first experience is a negative one it can stop a person of reaching out for a different type of psychological support. Becoming familiar with the range of supports that are out there is invaluable. Most importantly, look for someone who is well qualified and that you feel comfortable with.
Many of the words commonly found in the mental-health field are often misunderstood or misused, and so the following may be of help in clarifying what some mean.
This term is most often used in the independent and social care sectors, as well as by some therapists, but not all. It is used to distinguish the client from other people the professional may know in order to emphasise the professional nature of the relationship the client has with them.
Patient is used to describe a person who attends a hospital, including a psychiatric hospital, or doctor’s surgery. It is distinct from client by the nature of the medical interventions used.
Psychiatrists work with a variety of people, problems and age groups, but most commonly with people who have more severe disorders that may require some sort of medical treatment.
A psychiatrist will have a medical degree and can therefore prescribe psychiatric medication. They may or may not also provide psychotherapy.
A psychologist will have a masters or PhD in their relevant field within psychology. Depending on which area they work in they can provide talk therapy, psychological testing and can conduct research in a research or university setting. Clinical psychologists, for example, will work psychologically with a wide range of problems and client groups – from eating disorders to schizophrenia and dementia.
There are many titles within the psychology field including: clinical psychologist, counselling psychologist, educational psychologist, forensic psychologist, health psychologist, occupational psychologist, chartered psychologist, and sport and exercise psychologist.
Psychotherapy is a term that covers all talking therapies and the many associated approaches/methods. The titles psychotherapist and counsellor are often used interchangeably.
The aim of psychotherapy is to help clients overcome a wide scope of concerns. These concerns range from emotional difficulties to psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapists can train solely in psychotherapy or they may also cross over from other professional backgrounds within the mental-health sector.
Psychotherapists can choose from a wealth of approaches to help clients understand and explore how they feel. Some therapists also teach skills to help you manage difficult emotions more effectively.
A number of different types of psychotherapy can be found today, all of which have different theories of how the mind works and associated methods of intervention. Different therapies suit different people and different problems. Some of the more commonly known are probably Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Psychodynamic, Gestalt, Humanistic and Integrative. I would encourage any client to ensure that they have a good working relationship with their therapist and that they speak to the therapist if they feel something isn’t working.
A psychotherapist can work one-to-one, with couples or with groups of people with a similar problem. Sessions can take place once every week, as with CBT, or up to five times a week, as with psychoanalytic therapy.
Some experts believe that while areas of counselling and psychotherapy overlap, psychotherapists work on longer-term concerns and have the training to reflect this. Others argue that there is little to no distinction between the professions. Checking a professional’s experience, training and qualifications is always recommended.
A counselling session will involve the client and counsellor talking through their concerns and may involve using a specific form of psychotherapy, like those mentioned above, to help. Similarly to psychotherapy, counselling can be one-to-one, group or couple meetings and is confidential in nature.
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Article printed in The Mayo News on 20 October 2015