You are going through a lot of emotional stress lately and you have been thinking to consult a therapist soon. You take out your phone to search for the best therapists in town. However, you aren’t quite sure whom to look out for, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
Well, from a common observation, it’s quite evident that most of us are often confused while having to choose between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. In fact, some of us aren’t really aware that they are two different professions! Although psychologists and psychiatrists work together to treat underlying mental disorders of the patients and play an integral role in the treatment of mental illnesses, there are certain differences in their educational backgrounds, training, the scope of practice etc.
Majority of us don’t really know how they differ, why they differ, what do they do differently etc. There are various queries that are left to clarify for the general population in terms of their differences. Nonetheless, before dwelling on their differences, it is important to look at their similarities. One of the common factors they have in common is their field of working. Both the professions aim at reducing the difficulties and symptoms related to mental health conditions. They talk to the patient through the problem and help them to manage their difficulties.
Now, let’s deal with some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
What’s the difference between their educational qualifications?
In terms of educational background, Psychiatrists undergo an extensive training which lasts about 8-years. They are pure medical doctors. They complete their Bachelor’s in Medicine (MBBS) and pursue their Medical degree (MD) in psychiatry. After earning these degrees, they spent their next three to four years in residency programme in a psychiatric clinic or hospital.
However, when it comes to psychologists, majorly clinical psychologists, they complete their MPhil or PhD in Clinical Psychology after their completion of Bachelors and Master’s degree. It is mandatory for a clinician to obtain a license from the authority head of the state, which is Rehabilitation of India (RCI) in India. It is usually acquired after the completion of MPhil in clinical specialization.
Do psychologists prescribe medication?
Nope!. Psychologists are not medical doctors and for the same reason, they don’t prescribe medications. However, in some of the western countries, psychologists possessing an equivalent degree in clinical psychopharmacology acquire the license to prescribe medication. In India, only psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe medications for the underlying conditions of the client.
Do they practice psychotherapy?
Yes. Psychotherapy generally refers to the treatment of mental health conditions using psychological rather than medical means. Some commonly practised types of psychological treatment include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), behaviour therapy (BT), Solution-Focused Brief Psychotherapy (SFBT), Psychoanalytic therapy etc. Since both psychologists and psychiatrists deal with mental disorders, they both provide psychotherapy. However, a psychiatrist may assist psychotherapy with further medical treatments if necessary whereas a psychologist doesn’t.
Do they treat all types of mental disorders?
Yes. Both psychiatrists and psychologists undergo extensive training in the field of mental health care. They are trained to diagnose and manage a wide range of mental disorders. However, it is usually the psychiatrists who treat severe mental disorders such as chronic depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc. Moreover, these disorders require medications along with psychotherapy for better treatment outcomes.
Psychologists, on the other hand, deal with less severe mental disorders including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, behavioural issues, grief etc. They assess, evaluate and diagnose the disorders. They also plan and execute necessary psychotherapeutic techniques to treat and manage the difficulties.
Whom should I consult?
Choosing between a psychiatrist and a psychologist may seem a little puzzling. But the choice may vary depending on the type of disorder you want to receive treatment for. Sometimes, you might need both! Yes. You heard that right. Both psychiatrists and psychologists have undergone training in psychotherapy. However, since their backgrounds differ, their ideas of solving problems have several differences while dealing with the patients.
For some clients, the psychiatrists may make the initial assessments and diagnosis and further refer him or her to a psychologist for specific psychological treatments such as CBT or BT. For instance, a patient suffering from severe depression may directly consult a psychiatrist for diagnosis and pharmacotherapy. After the severity of symptoms has slightly settled down, the same patient may continue their treatment with a licensed psychologist to undergo psychotherapy. In such cases, seeking help from both the professions simultaneously yield better results.
Nevertheless, the idea of differentiating between psychiatrist and psychologist is a considerable task, identifying your requirements and seeking help from a professional alienating the stigma and doubts is more important!