Finding the right medical professional to help treat mental health disorders can be confusing. Usually, your search for the right specialist will lead you to two types of doctors: psychologists and psychiatrists. Both psychologists and psychiatrists understand how the brain processes thoughts, emotions, and feelings and use that information to treat any mental illness. But despite what you might think, psychologists and psychiatrists aren’t the same. Even though they both specialize in mental health, the two professions have different credentials and educational requirements. In addition to that, psychologists and psychiatrists have different treatment approaches to mental health challenges and focus on treating certain types of mental illnesses.
What Do Psychologists Do?
Psychologists help people cope with life issues that are causing any kind of emotional, psychological distress and mental health challenges. When you visit a psychologist, they study the way you think, feel, behave, and relate to other people and your environment. Psychologists also:
- Find patterns that help them understand and predict behaviour
- Work with individuals, couples, and families to make desired life changes
- Identify and diagnose mental, behavioural, and emotional disorders
- Develop and carry out treatment plans
- Collaborate with Psychiatrists or other physicians in case required
What Do Psychiatrists Do?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who evaluate, diagnose, and treat people living with mental health disorders that range in severity from mild and temporary to severe and chronic. Psychiatrists can also:
- • Provide urgent care for a sudden mental illness
- Help you manage long-term mental health conditions
- Provide second opinions and advice to other doctors and health professionals • Admit you to the hospital when necessary
The Differences Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist
Many people confuse psychologists and psychiatrists with each other because their titles sound similar and they both diagnose and treat mental health conditions, but there are some key differences between the two professions.
- Education & Training
Psychiatrists Have Medical Degrees, Psychologists Do Not have Medical Degrees Psychologists and psychiatrists are both highly educated and skilled. Psychologists have at least 6-7 years of university training and supervised experience. Most psychologists have a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or psychology (PsyD) degree and Clinical Psychologist will, have (MPhil) degree in clinical Psychology. Psychologists that have a Doctorate (Ph.D.) can call themselves “Dr.,” but they do not have degrees in medicine. Clinical psychologists have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors with at least 10-11years of training in medical settings. Psychiatrists begin their education with a medical degree at a Medical College or University. After that, they spend 1 or 2 years of training as a general doctor before completing at least 5 years of training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists have a doctor of medicine degree on Psychiatry (MD) and are required to learn all the systems and functions of the human body, how to perform physical exams, and specific treatments for each medical condition.
- Authority to Medicate
Psychiatrists Can Prescribe Medicine, Psychologists Cannot.
Even though psychologists and psychiatrists treat mental health conditions, Psychologists cannot prescribe medication. However, with some additional qualifications, psychologists in some countries are allowed to prescribe medicine but not in India.
The authority to prescribe medicine is not restrictive for psychiatrists. Because of their medical degree, psychiatrists, in any state, have the authority to prescribe medication.
Psychologists Focus on Behaviour (That Include Thoughts Feelings, Actions), Psychiatrists usually focus on Physiological Aspects with wide Range of Treatment.
Both psychologists and psychiatrists talk with you about the problems and challenges you’re facing. But their different educational backgrounds allow them to focus on, treat, and approach those issues differently.
Psychologists tend to focus on your behaviour patterns. For example, if you’re dealing with anxiety, a psychologist will track your sleeping pattern, the frequency and severity of panic attacks, and the negative thoughts that might be contributing to your high levels of anxiety. Based on what they find, they’ll talk with you, teach you how to change some of those patterns, and help you develop new habits to help relieve and manage anxiety. Their primary way of helping you cope is through psychological treatments and different types of talk therapy, some popular techniques given below:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
- Behavioral Therapy
- Couple Therapy
Psychiatrists also look at your behaviour patterns, but they have a stronger understanding of biology and neurochemistry as well. This allows them to provide a wider range of treatment that can include:
- Brain stimulation therapies
- General medical care, including physical examinations, in order to evaluate the effects of any prescribed medication
Psychiatrists also perform medical examinations before providing a diagnosis. For example, a psychiatrist may check for thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies before diagnosing you with depression.
- Conditions Treated
Psychologists Treat Less Severe Conditions, Psychiatrists Treat More Complex Mental Health Disorders.
Generally, psychologists treat conditions that don’t require medication. These types of conditions can include emotional issues, behavioural problems, adjustment issues, learning difficulties, confidence related issues, anxiety, and mild cases of depression.
Psychiatrists, on the other hand, tend to treat complex conditions that require medical treatment and psychological evaluations, including:
- Bipolar disorder
- Severe depression
Should I See a psychologist or Psychiatrist?
If you’re experiencing life challenges and want to work on better understanding your thoughts and behaviours, you might benefit from seeing a psychologist. But if you’re dealing with more complex conditions that generally require medications, you can see a psychiatrist.
Some conditions, like depression, anxiety and OCD can be treated with a combination of Counselling, talk therapy and medication, allowing you to visit both a psychologist and psychiatrist. In these types of cases, you may have regular therapy sessions with a psychologist, while a psychiatrist manages your medical treatment.
Regardless of the type of specialist you choose, make sure that the person tending to your mental health has:
- Professional Qualifications
- Experience treating your type of mental health condition
- An approach, personality, and manner that makes you feel comfortable
- Availability and open appointments
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