It is not uncommon for people to be unclear about the difference between psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. So how do these four terms differ? To answer this question, let’s look at each in turn:
1. A clinical psychologist has expertise in both normal human behaviour and abnormal human behaviour. In connection with the latter, a clinical psychologist is especially highly trained in diagnosing and treating emotional, mental and behavioural conditions. Clinical psychologists focus on the use of talking therapies and behavioural interventions in order to treat mental health issues. They are also qualified to administer and interpret psychological tests which can serve as tools in the diagnostic process.
2. A psychiatrist is qualified as a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. S/he tends to focus most on the management of mental disorders using psychoactive medications such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.
Despite their differences, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists also have many skill and qualities which overlap with, and/or complement, each other. They frequently work together.
3. Psychotherapy is sometimes also referred to as ‘talk therapy’ or ‘the talking cure’ and is used to treat mental and emotional conditions. It involves talking to a trained therapist either on a one-to-one basis, in a group (group psychotherapy), with one’s partner or with one’s family. There are many different types of psychotherapy and these fall into five main categories:
- psychoanalysis (see below)
- behaviour therapy: this type of therapy has the aim of helping the client to identify behaviours that are dysfunctional and self-destructive and then changing them. It is based on the principle that behaviours are learned.
- cognitive therapy: this type of therapy is based on the idea that how we think about situations, other people, events, ourselves etc. influences both how we feel and how we behave. It aims to help people identify cognitive errors (errors in thinking) and encourage them to replace such erroneous thinking with a thinking style that is less distorted and less skewed towards the negative, theoretically leading to improvements in how we feel and behave.
- humanistic therapy: this type of therapy revolves around the basic assumption that people are innately good and that human behaviour is essentially driven by ethical principles, a moral sense and good intentions. It also emphasizes the importance of living an authentic life, true to one’s own values and free from self-delusion (‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man’, as Polonius puts it in Hamlet) and that is as personally fulfilling as possible. Another core principle of this type of therapy is that everyone has their own unique perspective and way of looking at the world which underpins their choices and actions.
- integrative/holistic therapy: this type of therapy recognizes the complexity of the human mind and that each individual may need to be treated by more than one, single therapeutic approach and understood from numerous perspectives including behavioural, cognitive, physiological and social.
4. Psychoanalysis: this is a particular type of psychotherapy (see above) originating from Freud’s theory that how we behave, relate to others, and feel are strongly influenced by the unconscious part of our minds and that unconscious conflicts can lead to a wide variety of psychological problems such as mood disorders, problems in our relationships with others, sexually aberrant behaviour, obsessions and anxiety disorders. The psychoanalyst helps the client to gain awareness of, and insight into, his/her unconscious conflicts and how they may be connected to early life relationships. This awareness and insight are, in turn, intended to free the client from destructive effects of (previously) unconscious forces. Psychoanalysts are professionals who were initially trained in general psychotherapy and then went on to study psychoanalysis as a speciality.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).