The differences between the fields of psychology and mental health can be difficult to distinguish at the level where professionals begin to practice their spheres of influence and carry client loads. However, distinctions can be made at the academic level in terms of preparation, outcomes, and the primary functions of each discipline. In order to better understand their differences, let's explore three primary aspects of both the psychology and mental health fields, comparing and contrasting each. We will examine the basic constructs, degree distinctions, and methods of practice for both of these disciplines.
Distinctions and Comparisons between the Constructs of Psychology and Mental Health
Psychology is best defined as a specific field of applied science that is closely associated with mental health, yet primarily focuses on researching and studying behaviors that may be classified as normative or defiant in the field of human behavior. The word, "psychology" comes from the Greek word for "psyche" that refers to the seat of an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The study of psychology looks at the interactions between the cognitive, emotive, and behavioral aspects of a human being, both consciously and unconsciously. Psychologists frequently explore why individuals think, feel, and behave the way that they do in certain situations. They also study and attempt to classify personality traits and understand how differing personalities interact with one another.
The field of psychology involves research, objective and subjective critical analysis, and classification. Psychologists develop standardized tests and measurements that can be used to diagnose and treat mental illness. Philosophy, behavioral science, anthropology, and religion are all related disciplines that provide the platforms for research and classification of human behaviors, and development of assessments and standardized scales.
The field of mental health, on the other hand, engages in clinical application of psychological constructs to methods of practice. It is involved with diagnosis and treatment of various mental illnesses, behavioral issues, thought distortions, and emotional disorders that plague human beings. Psychological studies form the basis for diagnosis and treatment of mental illness by mental health practitioners.
Mental health issues that are often the focus of assessment and treatment include mood disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and personality disorders. Traditionally, mental health has been associated with community efforts to assess and treat within a client's current environ. Today, mental health practitioners treat clients within the setting of private practice.
Degree Distinctions between Psychologist and Mental Health Professional In most states, in order to be licensed, a psychologist must have a doctoral degree in his discipline. The traditional degree is the PhD in Clinical Psychology which focuses primarily on training to become a researcher and educator although development of a therapist's skill set is included. The PsyD is a doctoral degree that leads to becoming a therapist with very little training in research and extensive training in the clinical features of diagnosis and treatment.
Other doctoral programs include seminary degrees that offer a Doctorate in Ministry with a concentration in psychology or counseling (DMIN), and a Doctorate in Christian Counseling (DCC). The latter two degrees include fields of study that recognize the spiritual element of man and study the impact of faith on man's spirit.
Licensed Mental Health Therapists, on the other hand, must have a minimum of a master's degree and practice as Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Social Workers, depending upon the education program pursued and completed. Some licensed therapists have earned doctoral degrees, but prefer to practice as licensed therapists rather than licensed psychologists.
Distinctions and Comparisons between the Practice of Psychology and Mental Health
The disciplines of psychology and mental health begin to blur at the practitioner's level. Although many psychologists spend a bulk of their time studying human behavior and researching and developing normative tests and assessment tools, some also carry caseloads and overlap into the disciplines of psychotherapy and counseling. A psychologist who treats mental illness may also refer to himself as a "mental health practitioner."
Mental health practitioners are more often concerned with diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and rarely concern themselves with the study of human behavior. The terms "therapist," "mental health therapist," "psychotherapist," "counselor," and "social worker, are all used interchangeably to refer to mental health practitioners who maintain either private practices or see clients in the community mental health setting.
Distinctions in Published Contributions of Psychologists and Mental Health Practitioners
Both psychologists and mental health practitioners contribute published works to their respective fields. It is important to understand the distinctions between what each has to offer, literarily.
The types of articles that one would expect to find in a psychology journal either deal with research outcomes or document new insights into understanding human behavior. Psychologists regularly contribute to various journals for the purposes of determining better treatment protocols and outcomes. Educational pieces provide ground-breaking information about treatment strategies and techniques that have been developed as the result of trials with test groups and designated populations.
Mental health magazines and newsletters are not primarily scholarly in focus. Instead, they provide information about effective treatment strategies for many identified forms of mental illness. Contributors furnish articles to the public that raise awareness on mental health issues. Mental health publications also offer insight and recommendations for where to find professional help, as well as tips on self-care for those desiring information on how to take ownership of their own emotional well-being.
There can be a significant overlap between the disciplines of psychology and mental health, but each has its own niche in the overall scheme of emotional and behavioral wellbeing. Understanding the differences between the two allied fields paves the way for a better appreciation of the distinctive contributions that are made by each.