Psychologists And Psychiatrists: Understanding The Difference

Today, a major proportion of the world is facing emotional and mental health issues. A stressful lifestyle and the absence of work-life balance are the key reasons for increasing mental ailments. This has led to an increase in the demand for mental healthcare services. Psychologists and psychiatrists are the healthcare providers who look after people suffering from poor mental and emotional health. Both have their own approaches and principles of practice. Also, they treat the patients with different health conditions and with different therapies which are decided on the basis of their individual condition.


A majority of people tend to use the terms psychologists and psychiatrists interchangeably. The reason is that they believe that both of them provide treatment for psychological issues. Yes, both of them do understand the working of the brain and its impact on human emotions, thoughts and feelings. Additionally, both these providers are capable of treating mental illnesses with psychological therapies. However, there are ways they differ in terms of training, practice and treatment. Let’s understand the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists in detail:

Education and Training
psychologist-holding-picturePsychologists are required to complete a Masters or Doctorate level degree in psychology. Even if they get a Doctorate (PhD) in psychology, they are still not medical doctors. However, they are trained in the diagnosis as well as treatment of mental illness. Their education and training includes the study of psychological problems and personality development. They are also trained to diagnose emotional and mental disorders. Psychologists in Atlanta and other states usually need one or two years of practical work experience user an authorized mental health professional to become licensed.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are medical doctors with a minimum of 11 years of training. They have a more formal education and training in the field of medicine. Their education includes a medical degree at an accredited university, which is to be followed by 1-2 years of training as a general doctor. After this, they have to pursue training for diagnosis and treatment of mental issues for another five years. The practical training involves treatment of mental illnesses in children and adults at a psychiatric unit of a hospital.

Conditions Treated
psychologist-talking-with-teenagersThe role of a psychologist is confined to treating behavioral treatments such as depression, anxiety and learning disabilities. They do not give medical prescriptions for these conditions but can refer the patient to a psychiatrist if they see the need for medications in that particular case. Treatment from these professionals is thus preferable for patients who want to invest in alternative therapies rather than expensive medicines.

Psychiatrists treat a broader range of conditions, covering the psychological, medical and social aspects too. They are considered suitable for treating more complex mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, severe depression and schizophrenia. These providers are highly trained and have comprehensive knowledge of medications for mental illnesses. Just like a psychologist can refer a patient to them for medication therapy, the latter can send them to the former in case the patient needs behavioral counseling and therapy.

Treatments Provided
woman-discussing-with-psychologistPsychologists mainly use behavioral intervention therapies to treat mental and emotional problems in the patients. They conduct in-depth psychological testing to assess the mental state of the patient and decide an optimal treatment strategy for them. The prime focus of these professionals, therefore, is on providing holistic therapeutic treatments that may be good enough for restoring the mental and emotional health of the patient.

For psychiatrist professionals, the range of treatment provided is much wider as compared to that given by psychologists. In addition to psychological therapies, they offer general medical care, appropriate medications for the condition and brain stimulation therapies. They may even come up with a tailored plan by combining these strategies to treat the specific conditions in the patients.

Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which one for you?
sitting-in-circle-with-psychologistBoth psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to practice psychotherapy. Their job is to talk to the patients, discuss their problems and encourage them to be open and honest. But the differences in their educational background and training translate into diverse approaches to resolving the mental health issues faced by the patients. Here, the patient needs to understand the kind of problem he or she is encountering to decide the kind of help that would be needed. Whether they would benefit from seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist depends on the condition they are suffering from.

The approach of the psychologists is more behavioral. For instance, if a patient is depressed and does not feel like doing the daily activities, he or she may require behavioral therapy. This is where a professional psychologist can help. The professional will initiate the treatment by tracking the sleep patterns and eating patterns. Additionally, they will address the negative thoughts which might be causing the problem.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, follow the approach that revolves around biology and neuro chemistry. The specialists find the root of the problem with a diagnosis of exclusion. They would evaluate the condition and decide whether it relates to a psychiatric issue by excluding other possible underlying causes. For example, they would not straightway assume that the patient is suffering from depression; instead, they would first look for a vitamin deficiency or other health problem to make a diagnosis.

A Final Word
Now that the difference between psychologists and psychiatrist is well explained, patients can identify the professional who can treat them effectively. The choice of the provider depends on the individual condition and the respective needs of the patient. While some patients can benefit from availing the help of one of these providers, others may need to engage both of them. The choice of the healthcare provider depends on the individual condition of the patient and requires a personalized treatment plan. In many cases, psychologists and psychiatrists work in collaboration as a part of the treatment plan. Patients often take therapy from a psychologist on a regular basis and combine the treatment with weekly or monthly psychiatric visits to understand the impact of the treatment.

1 thought on “Psychologists And Psychiatrists: Understanding The Difference”

  1. Thank you for describing the differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. My friend has been wondering which one she should see to get help with her mental illness. That is good to know that psychologists are trained in the diagnosis as well as treatment of mental illness. It sounds like a psychologist would be able to help her.

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