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Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: How to Distinguish the Two

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: How to Distinguish the Two

There are many branches in the psych world. This often leaves patients needing help distinguishing among the experts to help them deal with their current condition. While it’s easy to say that you had a therapy or counseling session, different fields of psychology are addressed by various approaches and with various professionals.


So, how would you distinguish between a psychologist from a psychiatrist?

Who is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is an expert who assists individuals in dealing with their mental health challenges. They specialized in dealing with all mental health matters, covering conditions like anxiety and depression. Most psychologists’ patients have pressing matters that trigger various mental health conditions with popular alternatives, including grief or tough life challenges at a given time. Psychologists ideally help treat individuals' emotional, social, and cognitive behaviors and processes. Their main goal in treatment sessions is to understand a patient's emotions, behavior, and thoughts.

Who is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical professional who also specializes in mental health. They are qualified and certified doctors who can effectively assess both the physical and mental aspects of psychological problems. The common conditions psychiatrists deal with include substance abuse. These experts tend to both sudden problems, e.g., panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and hearing of voices, and long-term problems, e.g., sadness, anxiousness, and hopelessness.

The Scope of Practice: What Psychologists and Psychiatrists Can and Cannot Do

While psychologists and psychiatrists specialize in mental health, these are two different professionals. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, but psychologists are not. They have different formulas for diagnosing and treating mental health problems. These differences also apply to the educational background and various specializations.

1.    Diagnosis

Since psychiatrists are physicians with clinical training, they can order or perform multiple psychological or medical laboratories for diagnosis. They can also discuss their symptoms and potential triggers with patients to get a detailed and informed picture of their mental and physical state.

On the other hand, psychologists rely on their therapy sessions with clients to understand the underlying issue behind their mental health problems. Client transparency is key to their diagnosis because even licensed psychologists can’t perform lab tests for further clarity. This is often a major limitation to the success rate, and it takes a prolonged period to achieve desired results.


2.    Treatment

Psychiatrists have many treatment options, including medications, talk therapy, psychosocial interventions, and electroconvulsive therapy. The treatment choice usually depends on the complexity of the condition and the patient's needs.

·       Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is a talking relationship between a patient and therapist. It is ideal for emotional difficulties and mental disorders.

·       Medications used by psychiatrists are classified into various groups, including antidepressants, sedatives and anxiolytics, mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, hypnotics, and stimulants.

·       ECT is a medical treatment where electrical currents are applied to the brain and it is mostly used to treat severe cases of depression. There is also another new form of therapy in the field, including deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, and ketamine treatment.

·       Psychosocial interventions are structured social and psychological interventions that psychiatrists use to treat substance-related problems.

Psychologists use one approach to address mental health problems with their clients. The greatest aspect is usually to detect the underlying cause of the problem to know what kind of treatment to recommend. In some cases, they refer you to get tests done for further analysis of your problem. However, once there is clear information on the exact issue, they will recommend the best therapy for treating your condition. This might include either cognitive-behavioral therapy, systems therapy, or interpersonal therapy.

3.    Education and Training

Psychiatrists must attend medical school and do a written examination. They should also undergo a four-year residency program in psychiatry to work with patients facing various mental health problems. A psychiatrist-in-training is also essential to learn how to diagnose and treat mental health complications. After the residency program, the scholar should take a voluntary oral and written exam from a reputable board to become a certified psychiatrist.

Psychologists' journey begins with an undergraduate degree. They should also take a post-graduate program to further their studies in research and teachings in the coursework. Before graduation, a one-year supervised internship is necessary for overall grading. Psychologists are required to pass national exams and additional licensing tests for licensing.

4.    Types of Specializations

There are different types of psychologists and psychiatrists. These depend on what they specialize in and the group they cater to.

The various types of psychiatrists include;

·       Addiction psychiatrists

·       Child and adolescent psychiatrists

·       Forensic Psychiatrists

·       Consultation-liaison psychiatrists

·       Geriatric psychiatrists

·       Emergency psychiatrists

·       Reproductive psychiatrists

·       Public and community psychiatrists.

The five major categories of psychologists include;

·       Clinical psychologists

·       Health psychologists

·       Forensic psychologists

·       Neuropsychologists

·       Counseling psychologists.

5.    Working Stations

Psychiatrists are flexible professionals who work in various settings, including clinics, academic health centers, courts and prisons, industry, military settings, emergency, private practices, general and psychiatric hospitals, community agencies, nursing homes, government, rehabilitation programs, and hospice programs.


Psychologists mostly work with clients in private settings such as schools, community health centers, nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and rehabilitation centers.

Collaborative Care: When Psychologists and Psychiatrists Work Together

Despite their differences in training, psychologists and psychiatrists have a common interest – mental health. They both look to address the root cause of the problem patients are encountering, which helps solve the issue completely. These professionals can have collaborative care to give a patient ultimate recovery results.

Psychiatrists can use their clinical training to diagnose a patient's mental health condition in-depth. On the other hand, psychologists can use this data to customize a comprehensive treatment plan catering to the patient's needs. They can also work under multidisciplinary teams to share ideas and manage risks. 

Mental health is gaining awareness by the day as the world is rapidly appreciating the need for people to work on their mental wellness to lead better life. This has led many individuals to seek alternatives to their existing mental health problems and consult professionals on the best ways to work around them. Whether you visit a certified psychiatrist or licensed psychologist, you can get professional help for your mental health problem. Visit ArabiaMD for accessibility to mental health experts.

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