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How are Psychologists Different From Psychiatrists?

How are Psychologists Different From Psychiatrists?

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There are some obvious differences between psychologists and psychiatrists.

While psychologists must have a doctorate (and as such, are called doctors), they are not medical doctors like psychiatrists. Instead, psychologists either earn a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D).

Another major difference is that psychiatrists are medical doctors and are therefore able to prescribe medication to their patients. Though in some instances psychologists can prescribe medication, it’s fairly rare and can only be done under the supervision of a medical doctor.

There are plenty of other ways in which psychologists and psychiatrists are different. Let’s explore some of them.

What About the Therapeutic Approach?

The therapeutic approach to treating psychological disorders can also be different between psychologists and psychiatrists. For example, since psychiatrists have medical training, it’s common for them to approach treatment from the medical model and use drug treatments as a primary means of helping patients manage their conditions.

On the other hand, psychologists tend to focus on other types of treatments – psychotherapy, group therapy, and behavior modification, to name a few – as their go-to treatments for their clients.

Psychologists and Psychiatrists Often Treat Different Populations

Because of the difference in their educational backgrounds, psychologists and psychiatrists often serve different types of clients.

For example, psychiatric patients tend to have more severe problems that require medical intervention. A patient with schizophrenia, for example, would likely be treated by a psychiatrist in an inpatient treatment center. While there, the patient might be administered antipsychotic medication like Olanzapine. This would be provided in conjunction with other therapies like behavior therapy, group therapy, and psychoeducation.

In contrast, psychologists tend to work with clients that have less severe needs. Their patients might be depressed or anxious, have a learning disability, or have a personality disorder.

Usually, psychologists work with their clients in outpatient settings. For example, a client with generalized anxiety disorder might seek a psychologist’s help in managing their anxiety. This could be done through extensive psychotherapy, mindfulness therapy, and even stress management techniques.

Work Environments Can Vary

There are actually many commonalities between these two professionals when it comes to the types of environments in which they work.

For example, a vast majority of psychiatrists and psychologists work in private practice. This entails running a business in which they provide therapeutic services to people in need.

Additionally, psychologists and psychiatrists alike might work in residential treatment centers, community mental health settings, or hospitals. You’ll also find psychologists and psychiatrists working for government agencies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations.

There is some variation in working environments, though.

As an example, some psychologists specialize in educational psychology and work within public and private school systems. In fact, it is quite common that a school district employs psychologists to work with their students. By contrast, it is much less common for a psychiatrist to work in a K-12 educational setting.

As another example, psychiatrists are more frequently employed by residential treatment facilities, mental institutions, and government agencies like prisons than psychologists. This isn’t to say that these institutions don’t hire psychologists, but there tend to be a greater number of psychiatrists due to the more severe mental conditions that people in residential or institutional settings are facing.

How To Know Which One To Choose?

It can be tricky to understand which type of health professional is best for you. You must consider the kind of mental health issues you are facing before approaching a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

A clinical psychologist is a good place to start if you want help dealing with stress, trauma, depression, and anxiety without the use of medication. Talk therapy can help you process trauma and ease the troubled mind.

If your therapist thinks that therapy alone is not improving your symptoms or if you think you have a serious mental health condition, it is best to see a psychiatrist. Extreme fluctuations in behavior and mood and issues causing unusual disruptions in your daily life may signal serious mental health conditions. While these people may benefit from psychotherapy, medication can be a helpful treatment option.

If you are still unsure about whom to see and the kind of support you need, talk to your General Practitioner (GP). They will recommend whether you need a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Sometimes, depending upon your situation and treatment, you might need to see both. There are many cases where psychologists and psychiatrists work in tandem to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

How To Get An Appointment?

You don’t need a referral for an appointment with a psychologist. But as with other medical specialties, you will need a referral from your family doctor or GP to see a psychiatrist.

The Takeaway

Many people confuse psychologists and psychiatrists with each other and use the term interchangeably. Both professionals understand how the brain works, our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. They can use this information to treat mental health issues. While psychiatry is a branch of medicine making psychiatrists medical doctors, psychology is a separate discipline. Psychiatrists can plan your treatment and prescribe medications for you. Psychologists, on the other hand, can help you with therapies. Although psychologists and psychiatrists use different approaches to identify and treat mental health issues, both play an important role in mental health care.


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