Other health professionals also treat people with psychiatric conditions: Examples are neurologists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses. Some of their skills are unique to their professions, and others overlap with those of other providers.
Psychologists have attended graduate school and are referred to as “Doctor” after receiving their doctorate degrees- a Ph.D or Psy.d. They are specially trained to conduct psychological testing. The purpose can be educational- measuring IQ and learning difficulties, or clinical- helping to confirm a psychiatric condition. Psychologists have extensive training in psychotherapy.
Neuropsychologists have additional special training in neurology to identify conditions that may be due to a brain disorder. Neurologists are physicians who have completed a residency in neurology, the study of the nervous system. Neurologists and psychiatrists may medically treat some of the same conditions: tic disorders (a type of movement problem), developmental disorders, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Neurologists prescribe medications but do not conduct psychotherapy.
Social workers may have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or Ph.D. They conduct psychotherapy and have expertise at finding appropriate community programs and resources. They liaison with families on inpatient psychiatric wards and help to find appropriate follow-up care when patients leave the hospital.
Psychiatric nurses have attended graduate school for nursing. They are critical for the day-to-day care of hospitalized psychiatric patients. They can also provide psychotherapy. They may prescribe psychiatric medications under the supervision of a physician.
Other physicians, such as pediatricians, family practitioners, or internists may provide medication for uncomplicated cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, or anxiety.
Often, the different providers work together and consult with each other. A patient might receive medication from a psychiatrist and psychotherapy from a psychologist or social worker. The therapist may initially have begun working with the patient, then consulted the psychiatrist to determine whether the patient would benefit from medication. The psychiatrist may have referred the patient to a psychologist for a certain type of psychotherapy, or for psychological testing to help clarify the diagnosis.
These are fictional examples of how the providers may work together:
“ Taylor”, an 8-year old boy, was referred to a psychiatrist because he refused to attend school. He told the psychiatrist that he was “too nervous” and could not learn. Was Edward nervous because of a learning problem, or did he have a learning problem because he was too nervous to pay attention to the teacher? The psychiatrist referred Edward to a psychologist, who diagnosed a reading disorder. Edward’s anxiety disappeared after he got help for his reading disorder.
A psychiatrist might consult with a neurologist to help determine whether psychiatric symptoms are due to a neurological condition.
“Katie” was referred to a psychiatrist to evaluate for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pamela told the psychiatrist that she often “zoned out.” Her parents and teachers observed that Pamela had “staring spells” during which her eyelids fluttered for brief periods. The psychiatrist referred her to a neurologist, who determined that the “zoning out” spells were actually a type of seizure disorder.
Similarly, a neurologist may refer a patient to a psychiatrist for headaches associated with stress.