Psychotherapy provides therapy and counseling to support patients, whereas psychiatry looks at mental health conditions from a medical perspective, treating the physical and mental symptoms.
Psychiatry interventions mainly include medications and talk therapy, while psychotherapy interventions generally involve only talk therapy, so psychiatry is broader in scope. Also, psychiatrists have attended medical school and afterward completed a residency in mental health, while psychotherapists have master’s and doctorate degrees in human behavior.
The benefits of psychotherapy
This article explains the differences between psychotherapy and psychiatry, including the types and benefits of each.
Psychotherapy involves the treatment of mental health conditions with various types of talk therapy. In contrast, psychiatry entails treatment with a wider range of options that include talk therapy, as well as medications and other interventions.
The education of a psychotherapist differs from that of a psychiatrist. A psychologist usually has an advanced degree, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). In some states in the United States, a person with a master’s degree qualifies as a psychologist. The training includes all aspects of human behavior with an emphasis on scientific research.
Conversely, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medication (DO) with a specialty in mental health, including substance use disorders. The training emphasizes the biological aspects of mental health conditions. A psychiatrist has the qualifications to evaluate the mental and physical effects of psychological conditions.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a method of helping people with an extensive spectrum of mental health conditions and emotional problems.
It may involve individual, couple, family, or group settings, and it may help both adults and children. It usually entails once-weekly sessions that can be short or long-term, ranging from a few sessions to sessions that continue for months or years.
In the sessions, a trained therapist leads the conversation to explore a person’s:
- current and past problems
- thoughts, experiences, and feelings
Psychiatry is the brand of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional conditions.
While psychiatry involves talk therapy, the field also has other treatments that include psychosocial interventions, medications, and interventional treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
The following are popular types of psychotherapy:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This explores links between thoughts, behavior, and feelings. CBT helps identify unhealthy thoughts and shows how they may be causing self-destructive beliefs.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This is similar to CBT, but instead of having issues with uncomfortable thoughts, it helps people tolerate and regulate their emotions, along with learning skills to manage the emotions. According to DBT theory, once an individual accepts them, change no longer seems impossible, and they can implement a recovery plan.
- Exposure therapy (ET): This is a type of CBT that helps someone pinpoint triggers of anxiety and develop techniques to avoid becoming anxious when they encounter them. ET entails confronting triggers in a controlled environment where people can practice the techniques. Exposure therapy is mostly used for phobias.
- Interpersonal therapy (IT): The goal of IT is to improve interpersonal skills. It helps individuals identify negative patterns, such as aggression or isolation, and teaches strategies for interacting more positively.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR): This replaces negative responses to troubling memories with more positive ones through performing a series of rapid eye movements for 20–30 seconds. Research suggests that EMDR may decrease emotional distress from traumatic experiences.
- Mentalization-based therapy (MBT): This entails exercises in mentalization, which is a skill where a person consciously understands their thoughts and feelings. MBT also involves perceiving the behavior of others and conjecturing about the thoughts and feelings that underlie their behavior.
- Pet therapy (PT): This consists of spending time with trained therapy pets, usually dogs. In PT, a handler may or may not accompany the animals.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy (PP): This seeks to identify negative patterns of behavior that root in past experiences. Once people become aware of them through PP, they can learn to overcome them.
In fact, psychotherapy is so effective that it is one of the main approaches to mental health management. It promotes a change from thoughts and behaviors that are nonadaptive to adaptive. This helps people feel better and function more favorably.
The benefits vary with the specific type of psychotherapy. For instance, a
- Psychotherapy: As discussed in detail above, talk therapy endeavors to eliminate or control troubling symptoms so a person can function better.
- Medications: The exact way medications help psychiatric conditions is not fully known. That said, they may change communication and chemical signaling within the brain, which may decrease some symptoms.
- Interventional psychiatry: This refers to treatment that psychiatrists use when psychotherapy and medications are ineffective. Of these, perhaps the most well-known is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a
relatively safeprocedure that applies electric currents to the brain. It treats severe depression that has not responded to more traditional treatments.
Psychiatry offers all the benefits of psychotherapy. It also includes medications, which provide a means of treating various mental health conditions through physiological means.
The following is a list of medications and the conditions they help control:
- antidepressants, which treat:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- eating disorders
- antipsychotic medications, which treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
- hypnotics, which induce sleep
- sedatives, which treat insomnia and anxiety
- mood stabilizers, which treat bipolar disorder
Benefits of ECT
- suicidal behavior
- severe psychosis
- some cases of food refusal
A comparison of psychotherapy versus psychiatry shows that both fields use talk therapy to treat many mental health conditions. A main difference is that psychiatry also uses medications and other treatments.
There are several types of psychotherapy, such as CBT and DBT. It can help many people feel better and function more favorably.
Psychiatric medications have side effects, so they are not always an option for every person. However, in general, research supports their effectiveness in treating many mental health conditions.