The terms “psychologist” and “psychiatrist” are often used interchangeably by those unfamiliar with the field of medical health. While both professionals treat those struggling with mental health issues on an individual basis, there are some significant differences between them. These differences lie in the aspects of professional scope, training, and education. So, what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and which would you benefit from seeing? We discuss that here.
Psychology is the study of behavior, emotions, and the mind. Before it was established as an independent discipline in the mid-19th century, psychology was a branch of philosophy. Psychology students evaluate the various social and cognitive factors that shape the way people behave and react to situations. Psychologists utilize myriad therapeutic techniques to help their patients improve their mental health and heal from trauma.
Psychiatry comes under the field of medicine and focuses on evaluating and treating mental health issues. The term is derived from psychiatria from Medieval Latin, which means “a healing of the soul.” What differentiates psychiatrists from psychologists is that they understand how biology might shape a person’s medical health. They are also able to prescribe medication.
How are they Different?
- Training and Education: The educational process to become a psychologist can take 8 to 10 years. Psychologists must have a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a doctoral degree in their field and are required to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in many states. Psychiatrists need to have a bachelor’s degree before they attend medical school. They need to study various fields such as anatomy, neurology, biology, and more, which gives them the necessary knowledge to prescribe medication. Psychology graduates go on to complete a residency before they seek their license. The entire process can take up to 12 years.
- Practice: Both psychologists and psychiatrists provide psychotherapy. The difference lies in the mode of therapy: psychiatrists primarily provide medication, while psychologists employ talk or behavioral therapy. In some states, psychologists are granted prescription privileges if they complete the necessary training and education.
Which Should You See?
If you think you might have a serious mental health condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it would be best for you to seek a psychiatrist. While traditional talk therapy can be beneficial for those conditions, medication is often necessary.
A good place to start if you are not sure whether you need a psychologist or psychiatrist is to see a licensed counselor. They will take you through talk therapy, where you can process your trauma and learn tools to help you cope with depression, stress, and anxiety without medication. After some time together, your counselor will be able to determine if you need additional help, at which point they might recommend that you start seeing a psychiatrist.
A psychiatrist would then provide you with a neuropsychological assessment and a comprehensive initial assessment to find out how they can best help you. If you are already seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist but think that you might benefit from a second opinion on your current treatment, that can also be offered.