Understanding who to seek for help in times of mental distress frames the process of healing and eases the path towards a healthy mind and lifestyle. The terms “psychiatrist,” “psychologist,” and “life coach” are often used interchangeably, especially, in the MENA region.
After conducting a survey, asking 93 participants in the MENA, 85% of whom were between the ages of 18-25 years old, on the differences between psychiatrists, psychologists, and life coaches, came to the conclusion that there are common misconceptions that are yet to be addressed. Oftentimes, people don’t distinguish between the three, and while each professional operates under different circumstances, we have to admit, it is rather a little tricky to differentiate between them, given the level of mental health awareness in the region.
The roles of psychologists and life coaches are often confused. Although over 50% of those who took the survey are aware that a life coach is not a trained medical professional, they still seem to be unaware of what a life coach does exactly. Some don’t even believe in the effectiveness of a life coach and think that it’s all “business.” All things considered, it is commonly believed that the role of a life coach equals, in a way, that of a psychologist, as both their “roles” according to the results of the survey, is to heal, one way or another.
As for psychiatrists, one recurrent idea arises, and it is that psychiatrists’ only role is to provide and prescribe medication. A prevalent misconception in the MENA region.
However, it is important to know, when asking for help, who to go to in order to obtain better results. It’s for that particular reason that it is paramount to be educated on, and understand the disparities between psychologists, psychiatrists, and life coaches. This is specifically important as all three fields share the common goal of improving our mental health and mental well-being. This piece is written for the individual who seeks to understand the difference in the type of help offered across all three professions, in order to best assess their situation and act on their current need(s).
What is a Life Coach?
A life coach is someone who helps identify goals and develop an actionable plan to achieve them. In other words, a life coach’s role is to guide people who are confused about what to do with their lives. They help them set their goals and overcome the obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. To do so, a life coach would help them identify which obstacle is preventing their client from achieving their goal. Whether it’s laziness, lack of motivation, wasting time, etc, a life coach will help you obtain a healthier lifestyle and adjust the negative habits that are keeping you from moving forwards.
If these habits do not stem from a mental illness, or any other psychological distress the life coach can be of help to you. A life coach helps you grow by analyzing your current situation, and other potential challenges and obstacles you face, in order to elaborate a plan designed to achieve specific outcomes in your life.
Below are some points that can frame, but does not limit, the role of a life coach, and in what areas they can help an individual in their everyday life:
- Gain a clear vision to purpose
- Achieve a physical health or fitness goal
- Revive your relationship with your partner
- Become a more effective leader
- Growing or starting your business
- Develop healthy habits and a productive lifestyle
Please Note: Although life coaches may help people to improve their lifestyle, they are by no means authorized to diagnose, treat mental illnesses, or prescribe medication to their clients.
According to Cambridge, life coaching principles do not dictate that people are broken. Life coaching is about uncovering what people truly want, their core values and supporting them to be aware of their own resourcefulness.
People are not immune to mental distress. Every day, we might find ourselves in situations that affect our psyche negatively. Be it a break-up, the death of a close relative, bad news at work, etc. Everyday events have a heavy impact on our mental well-being. It is for that particular reason that we seek the help of a psychologist. The latter helps us identify the source of our distress through a “speech-healing” approach – usually referred to as “talk therapy.” It may be a buried childhood trauma that is affecting the individual and resurfacing through panic attacks, overthinking, etc. Or a recent short-term event that hinders their everyday flow, like a change of job, a heartbreak, etc. Either way, the psychologist’s role is to help navigate through these issues, and cope with the situations causing them the distress.
All in all, psychologists are more likely to see people who have conditions that can be effectively treated with no medicinal interventions. A few examples of techniques used by psychologists are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.
During the therapy sessions, if a psychologist can evaluate the patient and judge whether the therapy treatment has been beneficial for them or not. They can also forward a patient, who they suspect has a mental illness to a psychiatrist.
This brings us to our next mental health professional..
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health, meaning that they are physicians who treat patients with mental illness, from a clinical standpoint. They perform medical and psychological tests that help them identify a patient’s physical and mental state. They not only assess the mental symptoms of a patient, but also tend to uncover their repercussions on the physical body.
People seek psychiatric help for a number of reasons. Sudden issues can arise like panic attacks, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, etc. The issues can also be long-term, like mood variability (feelings of sadness), hopelessness, anxiousness, that seem to be lasting or distort the functioning of everyday life.
The psychiatrist then studies the ensemble of symptoms and issues that the patient shows. Combined with discussions with patients and a range of medical laboratory and psychological tests, the psychiatrist can make a diagnosis, and work with patients to develop treatment plans.
Specific diagnoses are based on criteria established in APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5), which contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.
Kindly note: It is important to note that psychologists and psychiatrists often work in tandem to treat patients, from both a behavioral and clinical standpoint.
Bottom Line: There’s No One-Size-Fits–All
All things considered, it is important to acknowledge the role of psychologists, psychiatrists, and life coaches in helping individuals. It is equally important to weigh the role of each professional, according to our symptoms, needs, and wants; in order to be able to identify which of the three we are in most need of.
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