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Psychotherapy or Psychiatry?
Patients with psychological or emotional problems are often confused about whether to start by seeing a psy- chiatrist or a psychotherapist. The first thing to realize is that either type of professional will refer you to the other type if that is what you need. Some problems are best treated with medication alone, some with psychotherapy alone, and some are best treated with both. This website includes sections on different kinds of problems and illness, and these sections discuss which treatment is generally best for each one. You should read the section about whatever problem you are experiencing to get an idea of whether to start with a psychiatrist or psycho- therapist.
It is important to understand that psy-chiatrists and psychotherapists do different things. A psychiatrists’ job is to ask a large number of questions and assemble a lot of data into a diagnosis and treatment plan, all in the first session. Some patients ac-customed to an exploratory type of therapy find this unsettling because the psychiatrist asks questions that evoke emotional responses and then doesn’t always explore these emotional reactions any further, instead moving on to a completely different topic.
While this may feel strange and uncomfortable, this technique is normal and necessary and is actually good psychiatric practice. The psychiatrist’s goal is to find the right medication for you as quickly as possible, and that’s what they’re doing. In order to treat you properly a psychotherapist needs to create a good relationship with you, but a psychiatrist needs to get as much complete and accurate information about you and your case as fast as possible.
Thomas B. Hollenbach, Ph.D.
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