Psychologists Vs. Psychiatrists: What’s The Difference?

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How Are Psychologists and Psychiatrists Different?

BY BRITTANY MCGILL

It’s not uncommon for people to confuse psychologists and psychiatrists, but they actually have very different jobs. It’s important to know who does what so you can make the right treatment decisions for you and your family. Here’s 4 psych facts to help you get it right.

Is this stereotype about psychologists or psychiatrists?

Is this stereotype about psychologists or psychiatrists?

Is There a Difference in Education and Training Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists?

Probably the most important point of difference between psychologists and psychiatrists is that psychiatrists have a medical degree and psychologists don’t. Because of their medical training, all psychiatrists will have a ‘doctor’ title. Some clinical psychologists may also have a doctor title, though this is because they’ve completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (as opposed to a Masters in Clinical Psychology), a PhD in the area of clinical psychology, or both, but psychologists aren’t medically trained.

Who Can Prescribe Medication?

Only psychiatrists can prescribe medication for mental disorders, because they are medically trained. Psychologists may recommend a psychiatric referral when they feel medication is indicated, but they aren’t able to prescribe medication. A medical background means that psychiatrists have a greater level of understanding as to how mental health issues like anxiety and depression can be the result of imbalances in brain chemistry. Their medical training also means that psychiatrists have knowledge about how different medications interact and the best dosages to trial for the best results.

Do Psychiatrists Do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Most psychologists will have training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT, the ‘gold standard’ treatment for a range of mental health difficulties. Some psychiatrists will also see patients for CBT alongside medication management, though many will manage only medication. Some people benefit from starting medication before they start other forms of treatment, and others will benefit from seeing both a psychologist (for CBT) and a psychiatrist (for medication management) at the same time.

While it’s usually recommended that people see a psychologist when they’re taking medication, many people also see psychologists without seeing a psychiatrist.

How Often Should I See My Psychologist/Psychiatrist?

Depending on what it is that you’re seeking help with, you may see a psychologist for only a few sessions, or you may need regular sessions over a longer period of time. How often you meet with your psychiatrist will depend on your medication: if you’re trialing a new medication, you may meet with your psychiatrist more regularly to monitor its effectiveness and possible side effects, but once you’ve found the right medication and the right dose, you may only see your psychiatrist every once in a while, especially if you’re seeing a psychologist at the same time.

Brittany McGill is a clinical psychologist who completed her postgraduate clinical training at the University of New South Wales. She is interested in anxiety and mood disorders across the lifespan and uses cognitive-behavioural and other evidence-based strategies to help people achieve positive change in their lives.


 

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