Sometimes, troubling feelings can be alleviated simply by talking with a friend, participating in a team sport, or getting out into nature. But at other times, we feel the need to reach out for professional support.
Mental Health practitioners generally operate within the categories of Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. Within these four disciplines there are again many different specialties and approaches.
Many believe the term to apply exclusively to persons who have “big” problems, are institutionalized, or are taking scary drugs. The term “mental health” can carry a huge stigma in some places and create a barrier for those who want to reach out. However, the mental health field is as broad as the physical health field. In the same way that clients may visit a medical doctor for everything ranging from the common cold to brain surgery, so do clients visit a mental health practitioner for issues on the same continuum of simplicity and complexity. In truth, most people who regularly attend psychotherapy sessions are having the same types of “normal” life challenges as everyone else, such as relationship issues, on-the-job stress, the loss of a loved one, and so forth. We’ll talk more about this later.
Trained academically having obtained a PhD from a university in either clinical or research psychology (there are several other branches too). Psychologists provide assessments, usually by psychometric means. They specialize in categorizing and describing mental disturbances. They often work closely with insurance companies and in the court system. Some clinical psychologists also do psychotherapy with individuals. Depth Psychology is the branch which is the most closely aligned with Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. There’s more on this, on the Depth Psychology page.
Trained to work with people. The training takes place in institutes which are different from universities, and which are very specifically structured for the purpose of practicing psychotherapy. An advanced psychotherapy training program will normally take six years. In Ontario, some such schools include The Centre for Training in Psychotherapy, the Adler Graduate Professional School, the Gestalt Institute of Toronto and the LingYu International Psychotherapy Centre.
Trained to uncover unconscious thoughts and assumptions by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind. They work to bring repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation and free association. The process of formal psychoanalysis includes attending sessions four to five times per week, lying on a couch with the analyst seated behind and out of sight, while the client speaks about dreams and thoughts without censorship. The analyst then translates or interprets these random thoughts and images into everyday feelings which are hidden in the narrative.