Psychologists and Psychiatrists – 5 Differences You Didn’t Know About

Seeking mental health help in Pakistan is a strong taboo. As a result of this taboo, awareness is scarce which makes seeking mental health even more of a problem. This is because when we search for help for mental problems, we come across several terms such as counseling, therapy, psychologists, psychiatrists, but little of us know the differences between these terms. The biggest confusion remains between Psychiatrists and Psychologists, who are often used synonymously but do very different work.

Both are key professions in the field of mental health and behavior, but are not the same. So if you are someone looking to equip themselves with better knowledge of the terms, or seeking help for yourself or a dear one, and not sure which one to consult, you should know who they really are and how they both differ.

I’ll take you through all the key differences. So, let’s take a look.

Psychologists and Psychiatrists – Who are They?

To define precisely, Psychology is the scientific study of human mind and behavior. Individuals who practice Psychology are known as Psychologists and study how human beings think, behave and feel in different social settings. They are experts in human behavior.

On the other hand, Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with the treatment of mental illness, emotional disturbances, and abnormal behavior. Psychiatrists look at biological, neurological and biochemical abnormalities to diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them.

The similarities: Both fields are essential in researching about and developing treatments for improving the mental and emotional well being of people. They share a common goal: helping people lead well-functional and healthy lives.

Differences Between Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Psychologists and psychiatrists differ in many different aspects, including areas of their work and their educational path. Contrary to the common belief regarding being synonymous, they are quite different and here’s how:

1. Psychiatrists treat mental issues through medications; Psychologists treat them with therapies

The approach towards treating mental issues is the biggest difference between the two.

A Psychiatrist takes a medication-first approach in their treatment. After an initial diagnosis, they develop a treatment course plan for the patient, focusing on managing symptoms through the use of medications and psychotherapy. While they may also be trained in psychotherapies like psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy and more, the work of therapies is generally taken care of by Psychologists.

Psychologists utilize different types of therapies to manage symptoms and help their patients cope with their life problems. They may use different forms of therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psycho-dynamic Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Gestalt Therapy, Humanistic Therapy, etc. They are also qualified in conducting evaluative psychometric tests, which assess a person’s mental state and personal attributes to determine the right course of action for the patient.

However, the treatment of some issues requires a combination of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist to eliminate the issue effectively. For example, if a person is suffering from depression and recently attempted suicide, a Psychiatrist will first prescribe anti-depressant medications to the person to manage the suicidal tendencies and make the person more open to talking and treatment. After stabilization, the psychologist would start the therapy to get to the root cause of the person’s difficulties and help them manage their negative thoughts and emotions.

Thus, psychologists and psychiatrists also work together in many mental health-care settings to help patients deal with their mental health problems.

2. Psychiatrists primarily deal with mental disorders. For Psychologists, it is just one branch

Psychiatrists are medical doctors and thus they mainly work in healthcare settings such as hospitals, mental health clinics or private practice. Within the domain of medicine, their specialization is mental health and their work only concerns that. Psychiatrists can specialize further in the field of mental health, including areas such as Forensic Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, Clinical Neurophysiology, Pain Management, Sleep Medicine, Brain Injury Medicine, etc.

On the other hand, since Psychology is the study of human mind and behavior, it can be applied to virtually all fields. The word “Psychologist” is an umbrella term for many different sub-fields of Psychology such as Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Child Psychology, Sports Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Educational Psychology, and more.

Thus, Psychologists don’t always work with mental disorders, but rather are more concerned with behavioral issues in different fields be it, work-related stress, or behavioral corrective issues in children.

3.  Psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, Psychologists can not

Psychiatrists are doctors of medicine and are legally equipped to prescribe medications to patients. Many disorders such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), etc. require medications and are primarily treated through them. However, therapy also plays a significant role in treating these patients deal with the root causes of such behavior and ensures complete treatment.

Psychologists, however, cannot prescribe medications. They are qualified to conduct psychological tests to diagnose patients and treat them through therapy. In severe cases where medication may prove effective, Psychologists refer such cases to Psychiatrists.

4.  Psychiatry requires a degree in Medicine. Psychology requires a UG & PG degree in Psychology

A Psychiatrist is a physician with a medical degree in Psychiatry. To be a Psychiatrist you will first have to complete your MBBS, followed by an M.D. in Psychiatry.

To build a career as a Psychologist, you need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology followed by a Master’s degree in Psychology. To practice as a Clinical Psychologist (treating mental disorders), you require an additional 2 years of study to obtain an M.Phil. in Clinical Psychology.

5. Psychiatrists deal with complex psychological conditions; Psychologists deal more with behavioral and developmental issues

Psychiatrists tend to treat people who need help in complex medical and psychological conditions such as severe depression, psychotic behavior, severe anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, etc.

Psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions that can be managed effectively with psychological treatments, such as behavioral problems, adjustment issues, learning difficulties, mild depression and anxiety.

So here are all the major differences between Psychiatrists and Psychologists! I hope this article helps in clearing the differences between the two and helps people opt for the most effective treatment to deal with their issues.

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