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Salve for the mind

Choosing a mental health specialist.

By Choosing a mental health specialist.


It has only been in recent years that Filipinos have started to appreciate the importance of mental health for their overall well-being. While public awareness of mental illnesses still lags behind that of our Westernized counterparts, the increased interest in mental health awareness also brings with it two very important questions: “When do I need to consult a mental health specialist?” –followed closely by: “Who do I consult?”

Unfortunately, many of our countrymen still view mental health consults as the territory of the psychotic—those who see spirits, hear voices, become violent, and so on—or lack reality testing. However, the truth is that mental health consults are beneficial not only for those who are nahihibang, nawawawala sa sarili,or nabababaliw. In fact, majority of mental health problems are not even psychotic in nature—most of the people who need mental health consults include those who have mood and anxiety problems, those with relational or family problems, and those who are struggling with addiction.

Struggles of the soul

According to the American Psychological Association, there are several clues you should keep in mind if you are considering seeking help from a mental health specialist. In particular, a consult with a mental health specialist may prove beneficial if you have any of the following:

• You feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness, and your problems do not seem to get better despite your efforts and help from family and friends.

• You worry excessively, expect the worst or are constantly on edge.

• Your actions are harmful to yourself or to others: for instance, you are drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs or becoming overly argumentative and aggressive.

• You are seeing things, or hearing voices that others don’t see or hear.

• You are finding it difficult to carry out everyday activities: for example, you’re having problems at home, school, or work because of your symptoms.

While these problems may not encompass the whole scope of mental illnesses, they’re clues that you may have a mental health problem and may benefit from seeing a specialist.

Finding a specialist

The next questions which normally follow are: “Who do I consult? Do I consult a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker?” Many people become overwhelmed by the choices available to them, and as a result, hesitate to seek consult because of worries that they might make a mistake in choosing a specialist.

While all of the above professions generally deal with people afflicted with mental illnesses, there are some very important differences between them.

Psychologist: Officially, any person who has graduated with a college degree in Psychology can be called a psychologist. However, there are many fields in which a psychologist can specialize in. These include psychological testing, marketing psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, educational psychology, and counseling psychology. Ideally, a psychologist who deals primarily with mental health problems should have had further training in counseling psychology. This usually comes in the form of a master’s or a doctorate degree. Other psychologists may also be further trained in child, couple, or family therapy. If you feel that your problems fall under these categories, it would be best to see a psychologist who specializes in these fields.

Psychiatrist: Like psychologists, psychiatrists are also trained to conduct psychotherapy with their patients, depending on the diagnosis. However, psychiatrists differ primarily from psychologists in that generally, all psychiatrists hold a medical degree (M.D.) and are licensed by the PRC to prescribe medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and sleeping aids for patients whom they think will benefit from these medications. In certain cases, psychologists who feel that their clients need medication refer to psychiatrists for medication, while continuing to conduct therapy with them.

Social worker: In the U.S., social workers with advanced counseling degrees may also conduct psychotherapy. Hence, the term therapist could encompass people with training in psychology, psychiatry or social work. In our country, however, social workers primarily act as liaison officers—for example, they may work extensively with the psychologist or psychiatrist by initiating and maintaining contact with the patient’s family, social agencies such as Department of Social Welfare and Development, residential care facilities, and other resource facilities.

Learn more about the nuances of these special fields, and how a patient can properly find the right doctor for his or her needs in the October issue of

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