Psychologist, Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a psychologist or a psychiatrist, you know that the difference between the two professions is HUGE and VERY IMPORTANT. If you do something else for a living, you probably don’t care at all about the difference. Fair enough.

But just in case you’re interested, here’s the short version:

Psychologists hold doctoral degrees in psychology (PhD, PsyD, EdD) and generally do therapy and psychological evaluations.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (they went to medical school) and generally do medication evaluations and management.

Can’t get enough? Want to know more? Check out this article I wrote over at Health eCareers:

 

Embarrassed to go to therapy?

If we’re being completely honest about mental health care, and what prevents people from getting the care they need, we have to talk about the embarrassment factor. Even those of us who “know better” than to be ashamed and are aware of the “stigma” around mental health issues, can suffer from some embarrassment around seeking treatment for ourselves. We know therapy is OK for others, but for us? Hmmm…not so sure.

I was recently interviewed by Mainstream Mental Health Radio about the embarrassment factor when it comes to mental health care. I discussed who is susceptible to feeling some shame around starting therapy, including:

  • mental health professionals
  • health care providers
  • teachers
  • attorneys

…pretty much anyone. But those of us who know a little (or a lot) about psychology and mental health might find ourselves thinking the following:

  • I know so much about mental health, I should be able to fix this myself
  • I should be mentally stronger than this
  • I know other people struggle with mental illness, but not me
  • If I seek treatment, I’m pretty much admitting I’m a failure/fraud/weakling

In the interview I also talk about how all the public education that’s been done in the last couple of decades around mental health awareness has been fantastic. But we’re still not out of the woods in terms of understanding that mental illness has nothing to do with weakness or inferior character.

To listen to the interview – which also contains information about the mental health benefits of martial arts (who knew?!), check it out on Mainstream Mental Health Radio:

 

 

Secrets From The Couch

I recently ran across this article on BuzzFeed: 29 Things No One Ever Tells You About Being In Therapy.  I pretty much love the articles BuzzFeed writes on mental health because they’re clever, helpful and fun.  And let’s face it: most of us mental health professionals wouldn’t be described as “fun.”  Sad, but true.

Anyway, this article was particularly great because the 29 Things were provided by readers.  Here are a couple of my faves:

#3: It might take a sec to find the right therapist

and

#4: Even when you do, it might take some time to connect

I also liked:

#13: Sometimes your therapist will piss you off

…I might add that if your therapist doesn’t piss you off (or bug you, or something something that doesn’t sit right with you) then you probably aren’t getting as much out of therapy as you could.  Change is uncomfortable.

I also really liked the last one:

#29: Needing to go back to therapy – or stay in it for a while – isn’t failing

This is so true.  Not many people know that going back to therapy after taking a break can be hugely beneficial.  I have lots of folks in my practice who come for a while; take a break for a while; come back for a while to work on something else, and so on.

To see all 29, check out the full article here.

 

When You’re Too Embarrassed To Get Help

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I really wish I knew how many people think about starting therapy, but don’t actually do it.  Because my hunch is that it’s a whole heck of a lot.

We hear people talking about the stigma around mental illness and mental health treatment all the time, and honestly I think the one who suffers from this stigma is often ourselves.  Here’s what stigma against mental health treatment looks like when we use it on ourselves:

  • I should know how to fix this myself
  • I am a __________ (insert title: therapist, physician, teacher, etc), I should know how to deal with this on my own!
  • I am too smart to have anxiety (or depression)
  • I don’t have anything to feel worried or depressed about
  • I have good friends and a supportive family, I shouldn’t feel so bad

The fact is, public education about mental health has been so good in recent years, that most of us wouldn’t dream of saying any of the above statements to a friend, loved one, or stranger.  We know mental illness isn’t:

  • A choice
  • A weakness
  • A comment on one’s intelligence, place in the world or likeability

But yet some of us still say these unhelpful, untrue things to ourselves.  Why?  Because the stigma around mental illness still exists.  It’s fading for sure, but it has a long way to go.  So if you find that you are talking yourself OUT of getting mental health treatment, label those thoughts for what they are: junk.  Then pick up the phone and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To find a psychologist near you, check out APA’s Psychologist Locator service. It’s a free, easy place to start.

 

What To Know Before Your First Appointment

I recently had a chance to talk to the folks over at BuzzFeed about what to expect during your first therapy session. I love the way they presented the info – so fun, accessible and entertaining.  Adjectives not typically associated with therapy – but they should be!

Check it out:

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One of my favorites quotes:

“Some people are just ready to spill everything and talk about the big stuff, and some people it takes much longer for them to feel comfortable sharing,” says Smith. “What’s important to me as a psychologist is to meet people where they are.”

Thanks, BuzzFeed!

Everything You Were Afraid To Ask About Therapy

There are a lot of misconceptions about therapy out there.

  • It’s only for “crazy people”
  • Psychologists can change their patients’ personalities
  • It lasts forever
  • It costs a fortune
  • Psychologists themselves are either perfect, or total “nut-jobs”

I recently had the opportunity to weigh in on a couple of these – and many more – myths about therapy.  The article turned out awesome, informative and fun to read.  Here are a couple of my quotes:

They’re not here to tell you if you should call off your marriage or quit your job. “The real job of therapy is to get to know yourself better and change the way you’re thinking, the way you’re behaving, or the way you’re understanding the world,” says Smith. “The process of therapy is not to give good give advice.”

and

“Sometimes I think people hesitate to embark on therapy because they feel like ‘If I go once I’m going to be sucked in for 10 years, three times a week,’ and it feels like this huge decision,” says Smith. But the length and frequency of therapy is very individual. It can be a one-time deal, a few months of sessions, or longer depending on what you’re going through and what you’re looking to accomplish.

To read the article in its entirety, check it out on Buzzfeed.

 

Why Therapy?

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“Therapy is a waste of time and money.”

“You don’t need therapy if you have good friends.”

“Therapists just want to change people into something they’re not.”

“I should be able to fix my problems myself.”

“I don’t believe in therapy.”

I have heard all these things in my 15+ years in the field of psychology.  And honestly I, too sometimes wonder what the heck therapy (and therapists!) are good for.  Does anything of real importance actually happen in the therapy office? Are people really helped by “talk therapy” or is it all a scam?  Would be all be better off just popping a pill and calling a psychic?

The answers to these questions are:

  • Powerful things can happen in therapy.
  • Yes, people are really helped by talking about their problems.
  • And, no, we’re not better off just popping pills.

Here are some of the reasons I believe therapy is so powerful:

  • There are few other situations in life in which you get to be the center of attention for a full hour.  Therapy is a time in which you get to call the shots, meaning: you get to choose what to talk about, how to talk about it, and when to move onto another topic.  I tell my clients that the therapy session is “their time” to do with whatever they like.  When else does that happen?
  • Talking to a therapist can seem like talking to a friend, at least at first.  But it differs in some important ways: your therapist doesn’t tell you about their own problems, fears, etc and your therapist doesn’t have a dog in the fight.  Meaning, it doesn’t matter to your therapist if you take job A or job B; choose boyfriend C or D; or quit calling your mother for 3 months.  Her feelings won’t be hurt no matter how you live your life.  Her main priority is that you improve your mental health.
  • The therapy office is a safe place to try out new ways of thinking, understanding and interacting with your world.  Because sharing your life with your therapist is just the first part of the therapy, the subsequent (and more interesting and transformative) parts include challenging your old ways of thinking and behaving in the hope of getting to a different place psychologically.  This takes time and effort – and yes, even a little discomfort at times – but is at the heart of the therapeutic process.
  • When push comes to shove I view myself as an educator.  I educate folks about all sorts of different things in the course of my typical day: child development, parenting, stress management, mental health – the list goes on and on.  Why read a million self help books when you can get a one-on-one tutoring session?

No doubt about it, therapy is a pretty weird and intimidating process.  But it’s powerful and worthwhile.  Want more information about psychotherapy and how it works? Check out more articles here.

 

Mental Illness and the Holidays

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As soon as Halloween rolls around, psychologists around the country know to expect their phones to start ringing.  The combination of shorter days (and less sunlight), the time change and the impending holidays proves to be a tough mix for a lot of us.  As a result mood can go down, anxiety can go up and mental health can fly right out the window.

There are about a million reasons why the holidays can be hard on our mental health.  But contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just those who have lost a loved one who might struggle during this season.  It’s also those who have strained family relationships, those who struggle financially, those who aren’t where they thought they’d be at this point in life, and those who don’t feel they measure up at any point in the year – let alone this one.

The holidays are also tough on mental health because so much is expected of us.  We’re expected (often by ourselves AND others) to have perfect homes, perfect clothes, and perfect appetizers set on a perfectly-decorated table.  We’re also expected to have smiles on our faces, thanks in our hearts and plenty of joy and Christmas cheer to spread to everyone (even when we don’t feel it ourselves).  Some of us don’t get invited to any holiday gatherings and feel dejected about that.  Others get invited to so many parties that the entire month of December is spent in the car scurrying from one festivity to another.  Some have no one to celebrate with, others have plenty of people around – but not the one they wish were there.

No matter how you cut it, the holidays are tough on mental health.  For that reason, it’s important to be aware of the resources around us to help us get through until January 1st.  Here are a couple useful links:

Surviving the Holidays – With Flair

Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress – Produce for Kids

Tips for Parents on Managing Holiday Stress – APA

If times get really tough and you’re finding it hard to cope alone, consider reaching out to a psychologist.  Here’s how to find one close to you:

APA Psychologist Locator

Psychology Today

If you need to talk to someone right away, try:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide Hotlines by state

 

Depressed? Just Get Over it!

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In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, (#MIAW) I decided to write a post about depression and why, when someone is depressed, they don’t just “get over it.”  After all, why can’t people who suffer from depression just “think positive,” “be grateful” or exercise more and – just like that – feel better?

Because depression is an illness.

And just like we would NEVER say to someone with diabetes, “Just don’t think about sugar!”

or to someone with high blood pressure, “Just visualize that number down!”

or someone with a Multiple Sclerosis, “It’s all in your head!”

…we must not trivialize depression as something that can be wished or willed away.  Instead, effective treatment for depression is often multi-pronged, involving psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle management and possibly medication.  Luckily, we have lots of great options for the treatment of depression, and many of them are covered by health insurance – making gaining access to care a real possibility for most people.

For what to do after being diagnosed with depression, see my article.

To read a true story about post partum depression, read here.

For more information about effective treatments for depression, see APA’s article.

For more information about using your health insurance for mental health treatment, see APA’s article.