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What Is the Difference Between Psychosis and Schizophrenia?

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My daughter has experienced mental illness and over time her diagnosis has changed. She is 20 and had to leave college to return to enter an intensive day treatment program. She suffered from depression, anxiety, hallucinations and some cognitive changes where she could not read nor do school work. First she was diagnosis as Major Depression with psychosis, then schizophrenia, then they were ruling out PTSD and now they are saying Psychosis since the PTSD symptoms were from delusions.She is taking Geodon, Zoloft, Trihexyphenidyl and Temazepan…which are helping. What is the difference between schizophrenia and psychosis and why is it so difficult to get a diagnosis?

What Is the Difference Between Psychosis and Schizophrenia?

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Psychosis is not a mental health disorder per se. People experience psychosis in the course of psychotic-based disorders such as schizophrenia. People may confuse psychosis with the diagnosis psychotic disorder not otherwise specified (NOS). Psychotic disorder NOS is a generalized disorder given to individuals who have experienced a psychotic episode but don’t meet any other criteria for other psychotic-based disorders such as schizophrenia. One cannot receive a diagnosis of psychosis but they could be diagnosed as having schizophrenia.

If someone experiences psychosis, it means they are having a break with reality. A psychotic episode (a phrase used interchangeably with psychosis) includes symptoms such as hearing voices, believing in things that are not real despite evidence to the contrary (delusions) and paranoia. To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, an individual must have experienced more than one psychotic episode, along with other symptoms, within a six-month period. Please view this web page to read more about the specifics of a schizophrenia diagnosis.

It can be difficult to receive an accurate psychiatric diagnosis. It’s not uncommon for an individual to receive many different diagnoses. This is a common complaint among psychiatric patients. I’ve written about this topic before. Studies have shown that if three different trained mental health professionals are evaluating the same client, they may arrive at three different diagnoses. That is a common occurrence. Also, some psychiatric disorders have similar and perhaps overlapping symptoms. One example is major depressive disorder with psychotic features and schizophrenia. The symptoms of major depressive disorder with psychotic features can mimic the negative symptoms of schizophrenia such as flat affect, lack of motivation, and social withdrawal. Unfortunately, psychiatric diagnosis is not an exact science.

Rethink Mental Illness’s website states: “Psychosis and schizophrenia are not the same illness. Psychosis is the name of a symptoms or experiences, which include hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations make someone experience things that other people are not. This might be seeing things or hearing voices. Delusions are when people have unusual beliefs that other people don’t have. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects how someone thinks or feels. Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations and delusions. But often it will have other symptoms like feeling flat or emotionless, or withdrawing from other people.”

I would recommend trying to access high-quality treatment for your daughter rather than gaining a specific diagnosis. The goal for you and your daughter should be to connect with a highly-qualified therapist, psychiatrist and treatment team. More specifically, the mental health professionals you and she choose should focus on understanding your daughter’s needs, decreasing her symptoms and improving her quality of life. Your main goal should be to look for results-oriented treatment. Stay connected to the professionals who are actually able to help your daughter.

I hope you are able to find high quality psychiatric help for your daughter. You may want to try this website to search for mental health professionals in your community. Lastly, I hope my answer clarifies the difference between psychosis and schizophrenia. If not, please do not hesitate to ask followup questions. I wish you well. Thanks for writing.

What Is the Difference Between Psychosis and Schizophrenia?

This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on June 2, 2010.

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2019). What Is the Difference Between Psychosis and Schizophrenia?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Jun 2019 (Originally: 2 Jun 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.