February 2011

Fundamental Differences Between Psychology and Psychiatry: An Overview

How many times have I been asked, “So are you a psychiatrist or psychologist? They’re basically the same, right?” I often say, “That’s like referring to an astronomer as an astrologer.”

For the uninitiated, the two have different educations and hold different degrees. Psychologists are doctors of philosophy (Ph.D.) or psychology (Psy.D.); psychiatrists are medical doctors/physicians (M.D.).

The difference is critical. Physicians are trained throughout medical school and residency to view the body as a series of organs that comprise an organism. Their purview, then, is a machine that is either functioning properly or is, to one degree or another, broken.

When a suffering person comes to them, the lens with which they view that person is similar to a mechanic who attempts to find a physical aberration that directly or indirectly causes the undesirable symptom. The study of psychiatry (meaning, treatment of the soul) essentially seeks to better understand the electrical, structural, or chemical mechanisms that are broken—or imbalanced—and how to apply medical solutions to fix these broken parts or systems. Neurons, tissue, the brain, and the central nervous system: these are all that exist and matter to the psychiatrist.

Psychology, on the other hand, literally means study of the soul. Originally, it was a broader field of study that, when allied and merged with medicine, created the offshoot that is now known as psychiatry.

Today, psychology is a social science. The academic branch of psychology, residing in universities, attempts to study human behavior, emotion, thought, and relationships. The clinical branch of psychology attempts, like psychiatry, to intervene with people who suffer in their behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and relationships.

Next, I will discuss one of the key differences between psychology and psychiatry: the belief—or lack of belief—in the soul.

Yoga yoga yoga!

OK, this might not be a popular perception, but has anyone else noticed that yoga enthusiasts are a bit like street preachers?

Just think about some of the more obnoxious born-again types and how they talk about their faith and replace “Jesus” with “yoga”:

“Excuse me, can I talk to you about yoga…?”

“One of these days, you are going to realize your need for yoga.”

“Have you had a personal encounter with yoga?”

“Hey, would you like to join me this Sunday for yoga? There is a new wonderful teacher who can answer all of your questions about yoga…”

“Don’t be afraid; yoga can change your life. You don’t have to give up everything, just add the beauty of yoga…”

“Yoga is calling you; are you hearing its call?”

“Let me tell you the exciting things yoga has done in my life!”

“Yoga covers a multitude of sins.”

“There is a yoga workshop Tuesday evening. It’s free—they are so excited about introducing people to yoga. They want to spread the word about yoga.”

“It’s OK, I thought yoga was silly at first too. But then I really studied it and figured it out and it just hit me. Yoga is the way.”

“Let me tell you how yoga spoke to me this morning!”

“There are many choices in this world. Why not try yoga?”

“Have you thought about giving your life to yoga?”

I’m going to be in trouble for this one. But I couldn’t help myself.

No Maste.

Happy Body, Happy Mind

For every treatment psychiatry offers, there exists a natural alternative that is safer and more effective.

This is my motto. This is the fundamental vision of my clinical practice.

As my practice grows in size and scope, experience clarifies my belief that a fundamental intervention strategy for emotional and behavioral problems must include the Body Triad: Diet, Sleep, and Exercise.

I have preached about proper sleep for years. It is so fundamental to cognitive and emotional functioning that I often refuse to engage in psychotherapy with someone who is not sleeping properly. It is about as useful as doing therapy with an inebriated person. Just as a drunk brain cannot process, nor can a sleep-deprived brain.

For years, I was somewhat skeptical about the impact of a poor diet on a person’s emotions and cognitive abilities. Sure, I always knew that a healthy diet would help my heart, give my muscles what they need to perform, and improve my complexion. But I wasn’t so sure about claims that childhood behavior disorders could be magically cured by dietary means.

I was wrong. Personal and professional experience, combined with a stream of quality, published studies, has convinced me that a poor diet can profoundly impact a child’s emotional and behavioral regulation. It only follows that adults’ functioning can be similarly affected—positively or negatively. Personally, I have learned that food dyes—which are in a majority of the food supply—can make my children…well, nuts. One of my girls absolutely goes bonkers when she consumes certain dyes; she begins to exhibit most of the symptoms of of the mythical disorder, ADHD. I can only imagine how many children with that label actually suffer from food dye sensitivities and other dietary sensitivities.

A recent study published in Lancet goes a long way to show how powerfully diet affects children. One of the key notions of the study is that what might be perfectly healthy for one child might be toxic for another child. Food allergies and sensitivities can wreak havoc while flying under the radar for years. There is no doubt now that each child has a unique diet profile; just like some cars require higher octane fuel, some children require a diet with or without certain foods. It is worth investigating.

The third rail of the Body Triad is exercise. Some excellent studies has shown beyond a doubt that the very best treatment for depression—even moderate to severe depression—is regular exercise. We’re not talking about extreme exercise; you don’t have to run a marathon to feed your brain what it needs. 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise 4-5 times per week is good enough for most people.

Imagine what our culture would be like if it were properly fed, rested, and exercised. Imagine what families would be like. Imagine what YOU would be like if you were feeding your brain the diet, sleep, and exercise that it needs for optimal functioning.

Wrestling Girls

A friend of mine asked the question, “Why are boys wrestling girls in Iowa?”

Perhaps you have read about the high school wrestler in Iowa who essentially forfeited a tournament match because his opponent was female. He is catching all kinds of flak from feminist groups. I wouldn’t be surprised if they stormed the state capital, raising caricatures of the young man that look like Hitler. That’s all the rage now, you know.
But seriously, let’s take a look at this situation.

First, the young man behaved like a consummate gentleman. He said nothing about the girl’s chosen sport. In fact, he acknowledged her accomplishments and praised her ability. He lamented his decision in a way that shows remarkable awareness of the powerful counterarguments to his decision. Would that our politicians were able to think this critically and behave this gallantly.
Second, the boy clearly thought this situation through. There was no tobacco-spitting, terse response, like “Girls…they shouldn’t be rolling around with boys—until they’re married.”

Rather, this young man was taught by his parents and church that boys and girls shouldn’t have physical contact where private areas will likely be touched. They reason that it can spur all kinds of thoughts and temptations that are frankly not worth it. They believe that it is also improper.
I recognize that propriety is a word that many in our hypermodern culture do not comprehend, but for most of world history, there have been rules describing proper public behavior. There are remnants of this antiquated notion. For example, it is still generally considered bad taste to pick one’s nose while ordering dinner at a restaurant (or so they tell me).
Of course there are extremes (e.g., wearing burqas) of propriety that should be rejected and some (e.g., girls only wearing skirts and dresses) that are unnecessary. But what about men opening doors for women? For most of history, this was considered the proper behavior of a gentleman. In some parts of the country today, it is considered affront to women’s liberation. I can’t count the number of times a woman has looked at me exasperated as I held a door for her; I have even gotten, “I am completely capable of opening my own door.” One of the consequences of the extreme feminist movement.
But a remnant of heroes remains. They refuse to wrestle women—although they will certainly play them in chess or Scrabble. They hold open doors for women, children, and the elderly, even if their motives are questioned and their natures abused. Their attitudes are charitable toward women, even during disagreements with them. Would that our public officials learned and practiced such charity, self-sacrifice, and critical thinking!
We can learn something from them Iowa high school boys.