About Dr. Schroeder
Psychiatrists. Psychologists. Social Workers. Therapists.
Professionals from a number of different disciples work to promote mental health and well-being. While there is much overlap in the type of work clinicians from these various disciplines can engage in, there are also important differences between the various fields. Each has its own unique strengths and perspective.
Psychiatrists, first and foremost, are medical doctors by training. Like all medical doctors, they have completed college and four additional years of medical school. During medical school, all doctors learn about the structure and functioning of the human body - both in its healthy and many possible diseased states. Medical Doctors are skilled in detecting and diagnosing medical conditions, interpreting results from blood tests and other diagnostic procedures, and treating and managing both acute and chronic health conditions. After four years of medical school, the M.D. degree is awarded and trainees can officially call themselves "Doctor" but in reality their training has just begun. All Medical Doctors complete a one year Internship concentrated on general medical training, as well as additional years of Residency focused on learning the craft of their particular specialty. In the case of Psychiatry, this post-graduate residency training lasts for four years and includes the initial intern year followed by three more years specifically dedicated to psychiatry.
Obviously, as medical doctors, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication. From a practical standpoint, this often appears as one of the major distinctions between psychiatrists and the other types of professionals mentioned above. There are a number of medical conditions (and even medication side effects) that can lead to disturbances in behavior, emotion, or thought, which may then be erroneously attributed to a mental illness. Thus, psychiatrists are careful to determine whether a general medical disorder (often previously unrecognized) may in fact be the actual cause for a given patient's symptoms. Psychiatrists are also in a position to understand the inter-relationship that can exist between various physical and mental health concerns (for example, untreated depression tends to negatively influence the course of cardiovascular disease, and vice-versa). When prescribing medication, psychiatrists take into consideration any medical conditions a patient may have, choosing a medication least likely to negatively impact those conditions. Finally, the fact that psychiatrists are medical doctors reflects that the major serious mental illnesses are true biological disorders. Unfortunately, mental disorders still are often poorly understood by the general population, at times even perceived as "character defects" or in other blaming and judgmental ways. Thus, it is important to remember that the brain is a part of our body, just like any of the other major organs (heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc.) It is obvious that diseases of those organs are not caused by character flaws; similarly we should not think of mental disorders in such a way!
Psychiatrists, however, do MUCH MORE than simply prescribe medications!
In fact, some patients who see psychiatrists may not receive medication at all. While it is true that many of the conditions psychiatrists treat do have a biological ("medical") component, as human beings we are much more than the simple "sum of our parts." As professionals who address the mental well-being of individuals, psychiatrists are interested in their patients' inner lives and general personhood. Our humanity is the "whole" that is much greater than its component parts, and cannot begin to be appreciated in simplistic terms of biological function alone. Thus, psychiatrists are also trained in the use of psychotherapy, or "talk therapy." Depending on the patient's specific problem and/or preferences, psychotherapy may be used either alone or in combination with medication. Psychiatrists see people with a wide variety of issues ranging from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, cognitive and/or intellectual difficulties, to eating disorders, problems of substance use, interpersonal and/or coping problems, and personality disorders. Others who see psychiatrists are looking for support during life transitions or regarding life's inevitable downturns and stressors, such as work problems, home and family issues, and grief. While medication may be a necessary component in the successful treatment of the most severe of conditions, there are other situations where medication is less essential or even inappropriate. Furthermore, some people who see psychiatrists may not actually be "patients" at all. The self-awareness that can be gained through psychotherapy can make this a great option for people who are simply interested in self-improvement, and better knowledge and understanding of their inner selves.
(For more information about the similarities and differences between different types of mental health professionals, check out this article from Web MD.)
Above Essay by Miriam Schroeder, MD, 5/22/2014
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