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How and Why Psychiatrists Use Psychotherapy

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Psychiatry, though only a few generations ago considered shameful and somewhat taboo if an individual needed to seek such help, has become a staple of the American health movement. As society has learned the importance of mental health in its connections to all other aspects of being, stigmas have been set aside for more people to seek professional help.

However, there can often be some confusion as to the difference in benefits between one style of practice and another. One of the most common misunderstandings has to do with the differences between psychiatry and psychotherapy.

The purpose of this article is to help bring a basic understanding not only of their similarities and differences, but specifically why a psychiatrist might use psychotherapy in their practice.

What is psychiatry?

Psychiatry is a type of medical practice which focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of emotional and behavioral disorders. These medical doctors specialise in mental health work that can include substance abuse.

Additionally, psychiatrists are trained to be able to recognize and help people who suffer from both mental and physical symptoms related to psychological problems. Those who seek psychiatric help can do so for myriad of reasons such as anxiety, hallucinations, suicidal tendencies, and depression.

Psychiatrists utilize a mix of treatment types ranging from talk therapy to medications, and other psychological intervention techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and supportive psychotherapy. Because they are trained and certified to prescribe medications they typically do so in combination with any of the previously mentioned techniques. Some of the medications they prescribe are things like antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, sedatives and or stimulants. 

What is psychotherapy? 

Psychotherapy is a treatment type which aims to help individuals who are dealing with a broad range of mental health conditions connected to emotional trials. Psychologists seek to identify the root causes of a person’s various conditions in order to enable better health emotionally and physically. Psychologists help people to identify, process, and cope with stressful events and traumas related to things like death, medical illnesses, and various mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. 

Similarities and differences

Overall, the main differences between the two types of mental health professionals is a) that Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can b) prescribe medication to be used along with other therapies and techniques that have been c) diagnosed as illnesses in order to provide treatment plans.

This, in contrast, to the psychologist who primarily focuses on the use of talk therapy (psychotherapy) – such as CBT, interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy –  to help their patients while lacking the credentials to prescribe medicine. 

What is important to remember here is that psychiatrists have attended medical school and have become medical doctors who then go on to specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health. As a result of this extensive and combined training they often prescribe medications to be used in conjunction with other techniques like psychotherapy. So then, why would psychiatrists use psychotherapy?

The power of psychiatrics paired with psychotherapy 

A psychiatrist who chooses to include psychotherapy as part of their practice does so with the appropriate knowledge and training and does so typically because they have found those treatment types to be effective. Their knowledge of and success with these treatment techniques, especially when combined with their highly specialszed medical knowledge, enables them to treat and help more patients – sometimes with more complex diagnoses that psychotherapy alone can’t treat.

In contrast, psychotherapy practice lacks the skills and training that is unique to psychiatry. Being that psychiatrists have the knowledge base to bridge medical, biological, and psychological fields, they have a greater capacity to effectively diagnose and treat a broader range of mental and physical maladies. In essence, psychiatrists blend the best of both worlds to the benefit of their clients. 


Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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