Psychiatrist and psychologist

While both psychiatry and psychology deal with the evaluation and treatment of people with a wide range of mental health needs, there are important differences worth noting between the two fields and their professionals. It is especially important for the individual wondering: should you see a psychologist (or other type of psychotherapist) or a psychiatrist?



Nature of the practitionerDoctorScientific or clinical
The purpose of the studyTreat mental illness.Systematically investigate the human mind, including behavior and cognition.
Main fields of studyPsychiatric medication and tomographyClinical Psychology and Research
Treatment methodMeet with clients for approximately 5 to 15 minutes and prescribe medication. A small percentage of psychiatrists provide psychotherapy.Meeting with clients for 45 to 60 minutes, educating on the mind-body relationship, providing emotional support, conducting psychological tests and evaluations. In Louisiana and New Mexico, you can also prescribe mental health medications, if certified
InterestsCure mental disorders resulting from physical problems (genetic or obtained), mainly through drugs or more invasive medical therapies such as ECT.Finding healthy alternative ways of thinking and living life. How to implement positive habits and help clients improve and enjoy their relationships.

What is a psychiatrist?

At the most basic level, a psychiatrist is a physician who can prescribe medication while a psychologist treats mental health problems through means other than medication (ie, psychotherapy or “talk therapy”).

Psychiatrists must first attend medical school for four years and then complete at least another four years of specialized training in psychiatry . Typically, the first year of training in psychiatry includes training in internal medicine, neurology, and pediatrics to ensure that psychiatrists are attuned to all body systems and functions. Comprehensive medical training prepares psychiatrists to identify a wide range of potential diagnoses, including the category of “medical knockoffs” or medical conditions posing as psychiatric disorders.

Psychiatrists are also trained to provide a variety of evidence-based psychotherapies , such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And while most psychiatrists continue to focus their practice on treating mental disorders through medication alone (often referred to as ‘medication management’ or ‘pharmacotherapy’), some psychiatrists may choose to practice psychotherapy alone or with a combination of medications and psychotherapy (“combination therapy”).

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists, on the other hand, do not attend medical school and are not doctors; Instead, they attend graduate school , often for 5 to 8 years, to earn a Ph.D., such as a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., and specialize in evaluating and treating mental health disorders through a variety of non-pharmacological interventions and psychotherapies . Many psychologists are also specially trained in psychological testing, administration, and interpretation.

Not all psychotherapists are psychologists. However, some psychotherapists, for example, are licensed clinical social workers or mental health physicians who are also trained to provide a variety of psychotherapies. Regardless of your professional background, most psychotherapists in the United States cannot prescribe medication (with the exception of psychologists who meet specific criteria in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico).

Confused? Maybe a little. But, this is the general rule: psychiatrists and psychologists can practice psychotherapy , but only psychiatrists, like any doctor, can prescribe drugs such as antidepressants or anxiolytics.

Also, keep in mind that many psychiatrists and psychologists collaborate frequently , even when they are not working in the same physical space, to provide the best therapeutic modalities for their patients. Sometimes, like Talkspace, they work together on the same platform. It is quite common for people to be treated by a psychologist or psychotherapist, as well as a psychiatrist, depending on their clinical needs.

When should you see a psychiatrist and not a psychologist?

Generally speaking, here are some cases where it makes sense to seek a psychiatrist:

  • You are specifically looking for a medical professional because you need medication to treat a mental health condition.
  • You are uncertain about what is causing your symptoms or what is underlying the main problem (for example, depression can be caused by a number of medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or a neurological problem) and a psychiatrist is well positioned to identify it
  • You have a complicated medical history and / or a more serious mental health problem, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, which often involves managing medications as part of treatment.

If none of the above applies to you and you are specifically looking for non-drug treatment, then seeking out a psychologist or psychotherapist may be the right w to go. Mild levels of anxiety and depression, for example, are routinely treated effectively with psychotherapy alone and without the use of medication.

Of course, these are broad generalizations. What makes sense to one person may not make sense to another. The most important thing is that you receive the treatment that is most beneficial for you.

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