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Schizophrenia: Choosing a Doctor and Therapist

Types of Mental Health Specialists

Choosing the right doctor and/or therapist to treat schizophrenia and other mental health issues may seem like a daunting task. But, finding the right doctor is an important step towards getting the right treatment. A number of different types of doctors can treat mental illnesses, including the following:

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  • Psychiatrists: These professionals diagnose and specialize in the treatment of schizophrenia and other mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications and may establish therapy sessions to treat the patient.
  • Psychologists: With the exception of prescribing medication, psychologists offer the same type of services and treatment that psychiatrists do. And even though psychologists have typically not been allowed to prescribe medications, several states have passed laws that give them prescribing privileges. Psychologists also do cognitive and behavioral testing to help assess specific areas of strengths and weaknesses in the way a patient functions. One type of counseling provided by psychologists that has proven to be particularly helpful to individuals struggling with a mental illness such as schizophrenia and their families is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. A form of cognitive therapy designed specifically for schizophrenia is called cognitive rehabilitation, remediation, or enhancement. It is based on the assumption that people with schizophrenia become isolated and withdrawn because others are put off by their apparent inability to express or understand feelings and desires. Patients are taught how to safely communicate their own needs and show that they understand the needs of others. Not every psychologist offers CBT, so you should ask about the types of therapy that are available when deciding where to go to get help.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC). These professionals are trained to provide professional counseling for psychological, emotional, and behavioral issues. They can specialize in areas such as marital and family counseling, relaxation therapy, stress management, and sex therapy. Because LCSWs and LPCs are not medical doctors, they are not typically allowed to prescribe medications.
  • Primary care doctors: In many cases, your primary care doctor may diagnose your illness and refer you to a specialist.
  • Holistic and alternative medicine doctors: These doctors are specialists in complementary and alternative medicines, holistic medicine, nutritional medicine, and herbal medicine treatments. These doctors may be able to prescribe standard medications but often choose different approaches that may combine natural medicines with mental health therapies. After determining the appropriate wellness plans or treatments, they may recommend other mental health therapists such as life coaches, psychologists, or psychoanalysts.
  • Psychoanalysts: Psychoanalysts are psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals who have obtained advanced training in a particular form of psychotherapy that grew originally from Sigmund Freud's theories. These theories are based on the idea that unconscious processes determine such things as an individual's vulnerabilities, motives, tensions, impulses, guilt, fantasies, or urges and can cause emotional and behavioral conflicts. Because the roots of these conflicts lie in the unconscious, common efforts to cope with emotional or behavioral conflicts -- for instance the advice of friends and family, self-help books, and the like -- can be unsuccessful. Psychoanalysts deal with emotional issues and may sometimes prescribe medication. Or they may collaborate with other doctors who prescribe medicines. Psychoanalytic therapy relies on the principle of transference, that is, a pattern of unconscious feelings and thoughts about the analyst that reflect similar feelings and thoughts about other important figures in the patient's life (for example, parents). The goal of the treatment is to make the unconscious conscious so that the patient can begin to recognize patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are no longer relevant to his or her current life circumstances. Psychoanalytic sessions are generally conducted four to five times a week.  Psychoanalysis is not considered an appropriate treatment for schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis.

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