Psychiatrists and psychologists, though they sound similar are two different medical professionals both of whom help treat mental health conditions. Even though both of them specialize in mental health-related issues they have different education, different training modality, and different qualification.
Even the approach of treating mental health problems differs between a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
What Do Psychologists Do?
A psychologist is trained medical personnel who helps people learn healthy ways to cope with mental health issues and lead a better life.
Psychologists are experts in studying how you think, behave and react to daily life situations.
- Find patterns that will help them make predictions of your behavior and how you will act in a particular situation.
- Help make suitable changes in your life by working with you, your spouse and your family.
- Identify any mental, behavioral or emotional disorders that you may have
- Make and implement required treatment plans
- Work as a multi-disciplinary team in collaboration with physicians or psychiatrists.
What do psychiatrists do?
A psychiatrist is specialized medical personnel who evaluates diagnoses and treats people with mental disorders, including substance use disorders.
As they have a medical degree they can order for medical investigations to find the root cause of the mental condition; and are capable of prescribing medicines for the treatment of the disorder.
- Provide medicine for urgent care of an acute mental illness
- Help in managing chronic mental health conditions
- Provide advice to doctors of another specialty.
- Can refer you to other health professionals.
- Can admit you to the hospital when required.
It is common for people to confuse between a psychologist and a psychiatrist because of how similar the titles sound and also because they both help correct mental health problems.
The key differences between the two professionals are:
1. Education, Training, and Specialization
Though psychologists and psychiatrists are both highly educated, psychiatrists have a medical degree, psychologists don’t.
Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors with at least 12 years of schooling and training in the field of psychiatry. They will have attended 4 years of undergraduate school and additional 4 years of medical school before getting their specialty training in psychiatry. As a result of which they know the system and functions of the human body, making them capable of conducting physical examinations, advising laboratory investigations to aid diagnosis, and providing specific treatment.
Psychologists on the other hand have 6-8 years of specialized university training. Most psychologists have a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or psychology (PsyD) degree. Psychologists having a Doctorate (Ph.D.) degree can call themselves “Dr.,” but they do not have a medical degree.
2. Mental Condition Treated
Though both psychologists and psychiatrists deal with mental health problems, the severity of the conditions is usually different.
Psychologists treat mild mental health issues which can be treated effectively with psychological therapies. It can include learning difficulties, behavioral and adjustment disorders, anxiety, and mild cases of depression. These conditions can be treated without the use of medications.
On the other hand, psychiatrists treat more complicated mental health conditions. These are usually conditions requiring thorough medical and psychological examination, and medical therapies.
Diseases that psychiatrists deal with which are not seen by psychologists include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Severe depression
- Delusional Disorders
In addition, patients with a history of failed attempts at suicide are usually seen by psychiatrists.
3. Modality of treatment
Both psychiatrists and psychologists discuss with you your problems and challenges but their approaches to treating the cause are different. The main difference between Psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists can prescribe medicines. Most psychologists cannot.
Psychiatrists have a medicine-first approach when it comes to their treatment.
They are licensed to prescribe:
- Mood stabilizers
In addition to providing medications psychiatrists can also:
- Perform brain stimulation therapies such as Electroconvulsive therapies (ECT).
- They can order for investigations after medical evaluation to rule out any organic cause of the mental condition. For example, thyroid disorders can lead to a depressed state.
- Provide general medical care and look for adverse reactions of prescribed drugs on the body.
- They can admit a patient to the hospital depending on their need.
Psychologists on the other hand treat the condition by focusing on your behavior patterns. These are usually mild mental conditions like mild depression, learning difficulties adjustment issues or problems related to anxiety which can be treated without medications. They talk with you know your problems and help you develop new habits and coping skills to relieve you of your condition.
Psychiatrists also study your behavior pattern but they have more understanding of human biology and neurochemistry, as a result, they have a wider range of treatment modalities. Cases that cannot be resolved by psychological therapies are referred to psychiatrists.
Often psychiatrists and psychologists work together as a part of the mental health team. A psychiatrist after assessment and diagnosis can refer the patient to a psychologist for psychological counseling if he deems medical treatment is not required by the patient.
4. Getting an Appointment
As is the case with all medical specialties, an appointment with a psychiatrist requires you to have a referral letter from your General Practitioner. On the other hand, an appointment with a psychologist does not require any form of referral in most cases.
Who should I visit?
If you are dealing with challenges in life and want to control your thoughts and behaviors to achieve harmony, you will benefit from seeing a psychologist. On the other hand, if your condition is severe and thinks you will require more than verbal counseling, you should ask your primary physician to refer you to a psychiatrist.
In some conditions, combined psychiatric and psychological therapies may be useful. In cases like depression and anxiety medical therapy along with psychological therapy are more beneficial than just one approach.