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Differences Between Mental and Emotional Disorders




It is common to confuse mental and emotional disorders. While they may have some similarities, there are also distinct differences between them. Both disorders are special conditions that can affect an individual’s health and wellbeing.  

Mental and emotional disorders can be challenging to distinguish, but understanding their differences is essential for proper treatment to be given. While both conditions can be debilitating and disruptive, they present with different symptoms and require different forms of treatment.

Mental disorders refer to illnesses that affect the brain, while emotional disorders are psychological disorders that affect how a person feels or acts. While both disorders can seriously impact a person’s life, it is vital to understand their significant differences.


Medication is a common way to treat mental disorders, while therapy is common for emotional disorders. Psychiatric medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers help manage the symptoms of many mental health conditions. 

These medications can reduce depression, anxiety and psychotic episodes. They can also improve sleep, appetite, concentration and energy levels.

In the case of emotional disorders, a therapist can tailor the therapy to a person’s individual needs, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, or any other kind of talk therapy.

It is important to note that medication does not cure mental illnesses. Instead, it is used to help people manage their symptoms. Therapy for emotional disorders aims to help individuals learn how to regulate emotions and reduce distress.

To provide the help that others need and build a rewarding career in counseling and human development, a CACREP-accredited counseling program at Walsh University might be just what you need. The program offers many electives, giving you practical knowledge of clinical mental health theories, processes and treatments. It also refines your skills through internships and thoroughly prepares you to earn your Clinical Mental Health Counseling license.


Mental disorders are diagnosable conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They are typically diagnosed through an evaluation. 

This evaluation usually includes a physical exam, psychological tests, and interviews with family and friends. After the assessment, the mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and create a treatment plan for the individual. 

The diagnosis process can be lengthy, but it is essential to ensure that the individual is accurately diagnosed to get the proper treatment. Unlike mental disorders, emotional disorders are not formally recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a condition that can be diagnosed. 

This is because there is no scientific or objective way to diagnose an emotional disorder. Instead, emotional disorders are typically identified through their associated symptoms and behaviors, such as depression, anxiety and stress.


While many mental and emotional disorders share some common causes, there are essential differences between the two that should be noted. Mental illnesses are often caused by an imbalance in the brain’s chemicals. Stress, anxiety and traumatic events can all play a role in how the brain is wired and how it functions, which can contribute to a mental disorder. 

On the other hand, emotional disorders tend to be caused by psychological and environmental factors such as adverse life experiences and how people think about themselves and cope with emotions. Life circumstances, such as relationships, a death in the family, or abuse, can trigger them. Emotional disorders may also be linked to chemical imbalances, though this is less common than with mental disorders.

Physical symptoms

Mental disorders are generally characterized by abnormal thinking patterns and behaviors that interfere with an individual’s ability to function in everyday life. While these disorders typically involve psychological issues, they can also have physical symptoms. 

Physical symptoms can include changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, nausea, dizziness, headaches and increased heart rate. On the other hand, emotional disorders are generally caused by life experiences, such as trauma or abuse. 

These types of conditions typically involve negative emotions and feelings of distress, such as depression or anxiety. While the emotions associated with emotional disorders can be intense and debilitating, they do not cause any physical symptoms. Instead, they are rooted in psychological issues and must be treated with therapy or counseling.


Mental disorders are typically chronic, long-term conditions that require professional intervention and treatment. While some professionals can completely cure some mental disorders with medication or therapy, others may require ongoing maintenance and support. 

On the other hand, emotional disorders do not necessarily have to be chronic, but they cannot be permanently cured. Emotional disorders are usually caused by life experiences and are typically treated with therapy or counseling. 

It is essential to understand that mental and emotional conditions can be managed and treated. Still, a mental disorder can be cured entirely, whereas an emotional illness cannot necessarily be cured.


Mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, are diagnosable medical conditions that involve changes in thinking, mood or behavior. Chemical imbalances can cause these in the brain and may be treated with medication. 

Emotional disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are not medically diagnosable and are usually the result of intense or prolonged psychological trauma. Emotional disorders are often treated with therapy or other forms of counseling.

Mental disorders can often be addressed relatively quickly, while emotional disorders tend to require more patience and persistence. They can lead to physical symptoms, whereas emotional disorders cannot. 

Mental illnesses tend to be chronic and can be cured, while emotional disorders tend to be temporary and cannot necessarily be cured. 

Five ways that a counselor should approach mental and emotional disorders

As a mental health counselor, it is essential to understand the different approaches to treating mental and emotional disorders. Here are five ways to approach these conditions.

1. Build a rapport with the patient

Making meaningful connections with patients with mental and emotional disorders is a delicate but essential part of healing. Successful rapport building between patient and healthcare provider is a two-way street. 

Take some time to get to know the patient personally and understand the core of their struggle. Pay attention to nonverbal cues and show that you care by making eye contact with them to encourage honest conversations.

2. Encourage the patient to talk about their feelings

It is no surprise that discussing your feelings can be a great way to manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders. Talking openly about your thoughts and emotions can help you find practical solutions to difficult situations, reduce stress and move forward peacefully.

Opening up about your struggles doesn’t mean that you are weak, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t handle your situation alone. It is a sign of strength to admit that you are not coping well and to ask for help. 

Speaking to a medical professional or support system teaches you techniques to understand and address the underlying issues, leading to greater self-awareness and improved emotional health.

3. Help the patient identify their triggers

By understanding the triggers that lead to patients’ mental and emotional issues, counselors can develop personalized and tailored treatment plans that address their patients’ specific needs.

Patients should feel comfortable expressing their emotions and experiences through open dialogue and attentive listening. Once this level of trust is established, the counselor can ask more direct questions regarding what triggers the patient’s emotional outbursts, negative self-talk, and more.

By having this approach and being willing to listen to the patient’s responses and experiences, counselors can begin to identify potential triggers better.

From there, counselors can create an individualized and comprehensive plan of treatment that not only addresses the patient’s mental and emotional disorders, but also looks at the source of the issues. 

4. Teaching patient relaxation techniques

The power of relaxation is underestimated by many, but its impact is tremendous. By helping the patient find their inner calm, they will become better equipped to cope with the triggers of their mental or emotional health disorder. 

Deep breathing exercises, for instance, help patients focus and bring about calmness and relaxation. Visualization, another way to bring peace, helps the patient visualize a pleasant scene. Imagining being there, feeling safe and relaxed, allows their mind to take them away for a few minutes. 

5. Develop a treatment plan with the patient

When beginning the treatment process, both counselor and patient need to have an honest conversation about the patient’s needs, emotions and goals for their treatment plan.

It’s beneficial for the patient to provide a detailed explanation of the symptoms they have been experiencing, what caused those feelings, and what measures they have taken so far to cope. The counselor will take this information and craft a treatment plan for the patient’s situation.

By implementing such strategies, patients will have the guidance to work through mental and emotional disorders and gain self-confidence and understanding.

Final thoughts

Mental and emotional disorders can often feel like similar issues that are hard to separate, but it is crucial to recognize their distinctions. In the long run, the difference between the two types of disorders lies in the cause and treatment approach. Both require expert intervention and understanding for the best outcomes.

It is important to remember that all forms of mental and emotional health challenges require support and help from the people in our lives. Mental and emotional challenges are not signs of weakness and must be addressed to ensure long-term wellbeing. Everyone deserves a chance to thrive and overcome challenges, no matter the type of severity. 

Richard is a Post-Graduate in Mass Communication who is acquainted with the dos and don’ts of ethical journalism and news writing techniques. He is also a contributor to the World news section at USA Reformer.

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