I recently discovered the filtered messages feature on Facebook, and through it I found dozens of messages sent to me with many questions, but the most common question I received was: “When do I visit a psychiatrist?”
I will be answering this question in detail through a series of articles, which may be long-winded, but I ask people to be patient to understand and to check the notes at the end of the article, because they are important.
First of all, a psychiatrist is a graduate of medical school who specialised in psychiatric illnesses. This specialisation is internally divided into sub-specialties, such as general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, and others. Each type of specialist is capable of working in others, but has incurred more experience and training hours in their specialty. It is important to ask a psychiatrist about his/her specialisation.
I cannot deny that most doctors work in many specialties and they are good at their jobs. I work in general psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry, and I refer the elder and addiction cases of my colleagues who work in these specialties.
A psychiatrist must be distinguished from a psychologist, who graduates with an arts degree and is not authorised to prescribe medication to patients. Psychology includes many sub-specialties such as developmental, forensic, and social psychology, among many others. The discipline adopts a different approach in treating people’s illnesses.
Psychologists generally prefer to work in a team that includes a doctor, clinical psychologist, and a child specialist in cases involving children. They are only permitted to hold a treatment session with the patients. In many countries, psychologists are essentially responsible for psychotherapy, not the psychiatrist.
Thirdly, therapists fall into many categories, such as recovering addicts who help addiction patients through their rehabilitation, as well as art and performance therapists, as well as many others. They must work with patients under the supervision of a doctor.
Fourth, life coaches. These are generally people who studied something unrelated to the psychological help they present to customers. Anyone can become a life coach after taking classes from certified training centres. This field is open to everyone, which makes it quite risky—your trainer could be good, but they could equally just be a person who likes the job because it profitable or because they were unable to find another one.
Fifth: human development trainers, relationship advisers, neuro-linguistic programming trainers, international lecturers, regional trainers, and other titles that have no firm bases. These are similar to life coaches, differing in that they generally have certificates from unknown sources, and their expertise mainly comes from coaching and minimal knowledge. The help they offer sometimes comes with a religious quality, and while some of them are able to offer positive help, none of them has been trained or supervised by a certified centre.
Important notes on the above:
- No one in any specialty has the right to prescribe, edit or suspend medication except for a psychiatrist.
- Psychiatrists and psychologist alone are capable of diagnosing patients. No other specialties have the right to do so.
- All psychiatrists hold treatment sessions. If you need verbal sessions, please ask the doctor for recommendations.
- Psychiatric treatment is not simply a matter of chatting or venting; if it is not doing good, it is doing harm, and as such could have seriously harmful side-effects. Look out for what is in your best interests when choosing who treats you.
- Psychiatrists are largely responsible for people resorting to other unverified specialists, because patients are not simply in need of a diagnosis and medication; they need someone who listens and helps them.
- The word “consultant” refers to a medical doctor who has a doctorate. The term is only used in the case of psychiatric consultants. Any other type of consultant is not a doctor.
- There are many psychiatrists who make mistakes, but at the end of the day they are human beings, and at the very least they have more knowledge and are training than other kinds of specialists.
The second part of this series will address when to visit a psychiatrist and spend money on your psychiatric health.
Ahmad Aboul-Wafa is a specialist psychiatrist.