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how does assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders work?

Psychiatrists

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Jeanette’s Answer

Hopefully someone in the mental health field will answer this for you in more detail, but what I can tell you is that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, whereas psychologists and therapists are not. Some mental health conditions are physical, caused by hormone imbalance and such that a psychiatrist would treat with medication. Clinical psychologists and therapists are the ones that deal more with helping people work through what they're thinking, and give them strategies on how to manage their emotions and thoughts. Often people need both to help them manage their mental health, whereas others simply need a therapist, someone to talk to. That's as much as I know based on helping my kids get through middle school and high school. Hope that helps!
Thank you comment icon Thank you! Jose
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David’s Answer

Jose: That's a very comprehensive question about which multiple college and graduate school courses are designed to answer. But in overview, mental health professionals who do this kind of work usually work within the disciplines of psychiatry, clinical or counseling psychology, clinical social work, and mental health counselors. Each of these disciplines work within their own framework or practice models that differentiate them from each other, but they also use overlapping diagnosing systems and terminology and treatment approaches.

Psychiatry is a specialization of medicine, and treatment oftentimes relies on prescription medications and possibly short-term hospitalization, and practitioners are medical doctors (M.D.s). Psychologists may use psychological testing and an emphasis on behavioral assessments and interventions, and most psychologists have doctorate degrees. Clinical social workers and mental health counselors are usually Master Degree professionals and they typically offer psychotherapy and counseling to individuals, groups, families, couples, etc. All of these practitioners usually need to pass state license examinations in order to offer services to the public or be employed by clinics, schools, hospitals, etc.

Regardless of the discipline, formal diagnosing, which usually is required in clinic settings for legal, quality assurance, and insurance purposes, but also to enable the different professions to have a common "language" with which to communicate, usually is based on the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and / or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Each discipline has its own treatment models and kinds or "modes" of services, still with possible overlap with other disciplines. For example, psychologists, clinical social workers, and professional counselors may all practice outpatient psychotherapy with individuals, couples, groups, etc., and each may specialize in services to a range of client populations, such as children, adults, the elderly, school pupils, organizations, etc. Sometimes therapists from different disciplines may coordinate services to the same patient or client, with the psychiatrist prescribing medication, the psychologist assessing for a learning disability, and a school clinical social worker providing counseling at a school site.

Regardless of the discipline, specialty, client, or patient, the goal is to figure out the best way of understanding what kind of problem the person is having, using state of the art evaluation methods and techniques, determining an appropriate treatment strategy that has a high probability of being effective and helpful for the person, with specific objectives and ongoing checks on progress and outcomes.
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