Working with patients suffering from mental challenges (eg: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) is neither an easy task, nor merely an individual work. For patients to get back to function normally in life, they need multidisciplinary support from the Team with specialized skills and expertise, ranging from Psychiatrist to Occupational Therapist in which each job position is responsible for different aspects of patients’ in term of mental health, coping strategy, ability to work and etc. When I was volunteering in the government hospital, I was amazed when seeing a team of professionals carrying their responsibilities respectively for the benefits of our patients.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the field of Psychiatry in which they work in diagnosing and treating mental illness via prescribing medication and providing some psychoeducation. They diagnose mental disorders by evaluating and checking the symptoms presented within the patients’ thinking and behaviour based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, also known as DSM-5. Also, they constantly monitor the patients’ physical condition when patients are under Psychiatric medication because some specific drugs might bring side effects, for example: high blood pressure, obesity..
In the department where I was volunteering, some psychiatrists do provide Psychoeducation and some basic skills for patients to have better understanding towards their mental illness and learn how to cope with the mental illness besides taking medication.
Clinical Psychologist 心理治疗师
Unlike Psychiatrists, Clinical Psychologists are not permitted to prescribe medications or perform medical procedures. Instead, their job scope is to provide Psychotherapy / Counseling, conduct mental assessment (Eg: Intellectual Assessment, Behavioural Testing, Personality Testing). Clinical Psychologists usually work with Psychiatrist in treating patients with mental illness while each of them specialize in respective areas to improve the clients’ mental health.
In Malaysia, it is hard to find Clinical Psychologist in our government hospital, instead most of them are self-employed or employed in the private clinic setting because our Ministry of Health department is still in progress of setting up policy and criteria for recruiting Clinical Psychologist. (previously, there is no clear division between Clinical Psychologist and Counselor (known as “Pegawai Kaunselor”) in our government hospital)
Counselors are often employed in hospital, university, school, social organizations. Yet, they don’t usually work with the same category of patients who Psychiatrists or Clinical Psychologists deal with. I would like to take this opportunity to explain the fine difference between the Counselor and Clinical Psychologists. Compared to Clinical Psychologist who focuses more on working with patients with severe mental problem, counselor has a stronger focus on healthy individuals with life issues, eg: career, relationship, family. Counselor delivers counseling service, provides supports and guidance, while helping patients to clarify their goals and feelings in order to solve their problems; Clinical Psychologist is more focused into diagnosis and plan Psychological treatment for their clients.
During my volunteering work in the Department of Psychiatry, counselor normally deals with patients (grief, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc), mostly recommended by Psychiatrist and Medical officers.
Occupational Therapist 职业治疗师
Occupational therapist helps mental patients to carry everyday tasks so that they can resume their prior independence despite of their mental disability. They identify environmental or Psychological barriers of patients and design tasks for them to learn and complete meaningful tasks. Apart from encouraging patients to participate or join everyday activities, they also teach them skills so that they can adapt back to their works. Sometimes, they also break down complicated task into small parts of works so that patients can learn and adapt it steps by steps. For example, Occupational therapist might design tasks for patients suffering from depression so that patients can overcome the feeling of hopelessness when they achieve on finishing a task.
The Occupational Therapists in the Department of Psychiatry usually work more with inpatients, guides them for daily exercise, gardening, handy works and more. They also organize small trip for our outpatients so that they can join social activities and learn how to interact with others. During consultation, it’s common to know that outpatients always stay at home most of the time and their activities are limited to watching tv and playing games (not even helping house chores). These kind of outpatients are always recommended to our Occupational Therapist so that they can engage with some meaningful activities so that they can get back to work or take care of themselves independently. These are all very important for patients especially suffering from mental challenges because mental disorders (eg: negative symptoms of Schizophrenia) will decrease patients’ interests and motivations to join activities.
I hope this summarizes the job role of each profession and also the difference between the professions. Do leave your thoughts in the comment section below and let us know what you are looking forward in our next article. Cheers!
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