What is a psychiatrist?

How is a psychiatrist different from a psychologist?

Psychiatrists prescribe, psychologists don’t. Right? Well, that is partly true. It is true that psychologists do not provide medical treatment, doctors do. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health. But psychiatrist do much more than just prescribe!

A psychiatrist is firstly a medical doctor. So first and foremost we try to assess: Are there medical conditions that can be treated? Anyone who has been hangry (hungry thus angry) knows that our bodies have a key role to our mental health and well-being. If you can’t sleep – is there a physical reason that is causing it? Are your hormones making you low?

Psychiatrists can also help to overcome the psychological elements of physical conditions. Sometimes people come with physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, palpitations or insomnia. Some people have gone to one doctor to another, and are surprised to be referred to a psychiatrist. No, it does not mean you are crazy. Psychiatrists are experts in BRAIN FUNCTION, expressed especially in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Our minds can be understood in terms of ‘hardware’ and ‘software’. If your mental computer is low on batteries, it won’t help much to talk it out. But if overthinking or overworking is causing your mind to overheat, perhaps it is time for some reprogramming.

Psychiatrists are trained to identify and treat both ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ problems. A ‘hardware’ problem might be a hormonal or other medical conditions, for example, that can influence our mood or way of thinking. Conditions like bipolar disorder, for example, can be likened to a tendency for the brain to short circuit due to genetic ‘wiring’. Some brain functions can have been affected by substances such as illicit drugs, alcohol or nicotine.

People can also suffer from psychological ‘injuries’. Just like our laptop may malfunction after it fell down the stairs or we spilled coffee on it, our psyche can be ‘injured’ by life ‘accidents’, be it in our upbringing, relationships, work, the community, or life in general. Just like hard impact may break our bones, many things can hurt our self-esteem, our trust in others, our belief in humanity, our hope for life.

If the condition has an underlying medical or brain condition, if the ‘psychological injury’ or addiction is too massive, or there are physical or very distressing/disturbing symptoms, medications might help. If you need medication, you would need to go to a psychiatrist. In the proper amount and way, medicine could be helpful. But that does not mean that if you go to a psychiatrist you would surely or only be given medication.

Sometimes it is our behavior that is more of the problem. Are there addictions or unhealthy patterns in our relationships? We may be able to do something about our functioning, to improve the way we think, feel, and behave.  It is a bit like fixing the ‘bugs’ in the software that causes the ‘error’ messages in your mind, heart, or soul. There are many ways to help people heal and function better.

Both psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are trained to deal with ‘software’ issues, a.k.a. be able to provide psychotherapy. In some countries (not in Indonesia), there are also psychotherapists trained as a separate profession.

Psychotherapy are specialized approaches to help “repair our heart and frame of mind”. You can reprogram your mind to work better for you. There are many different types of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), hypnotherapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), InterPersonal Therapy (IPT), logotherapy, marital therapy, peer support group (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous), etc. I prefer to use a humanistic-existential client-centered approach, but we can discuss what works for you. Whichever you use, only you can unlock your mind, your heart, your soul – it has your personal password.

Mental health professionals help by giving you the tools that you might be able to use do what you want to do with your mind, your self, your relationships, your work, your life.

Positive relationships and communities that provide TLC (Tender Loving Care) are important, but professional assistance can help immensely.