A psychiatrist and a psychologist both specialize in dealing with mental health, but people are often unaware that they are not the same. There are many types of mental health specialists who provide different kinds of treatment and support, but it can be confusing for patients to know which type of medical specialist they need to consult. The difference between mental health specialists depends on the type of treatment they offer, and their education and training. This article focuses on the difference between psychiatry and psychology and their respective specialists.

Their titles may seem similar, and they both treat patients with mental health conditions, but their approach to the problem and the treatment they provide differ. So let’s further break down what the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is.

What Do Psychologists and Psychiatrists Do?

One of the major differences between psychiatry and psychology is what the specialist deals with. Psychology is the study of how the human mind works. Psychologists study how human beings process information, react to their surroundings, form relationships and experience different scenarios. Their expertise is in human behaviour, and they use non-medical therapy to treat their patients.

Psychiatry is a medical field that deals with the treatment of mental illness, emotional disturbances, and abnormal behaviour. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who take into consideration the biological, neurological and biochemical reactions in a person’s brain to diagnose a mental illness. Since psychiatrists are medical doctors, they are authorised to prescribe psychiatric medications to their patients.

Both share the common goal of improving the mental well-being of people, but have different approaches to achieving itl.

What Kind of Education Do Psychologists and Psychiatrists Receive?

Another difference between psychiatry and psychology is the kind of education the specialists go through. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, meaning they first earn a medical degree and spend a year or two as a general doctor before going on to specialise in the field of psychiatry, where they then complete at least 5 years of training in treating mental illnesses.  

Psychologists, however, have at least 6 years of college education and supervised experience. They usually earn a Masters or Doctorate in psychology. If they have a Doctorate (PhD) in psychology, a psychologist has the title ‘Dr’, but they are not medical doctors. Clinical psychologists are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illness.

What Kind of Conditions Do Psychologists and Psychiatrists Treat?

Psychologists treat mental health conditions, such as behavioural problems, learning difficulties, depression and anxiety. They use talk therapy, which is to offer patients a safe space to share their emotional problems over a series of sessions. They provide counseling and support by understanding these symptoms and teaching the patient how to navigate their feelings and problems.

There are many types of therapy that psychologists can use, such as one-on-one therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), art therapy, mindfulness-based therapy and more.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, treat mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, substance abuse, and more. They can prescribe medications like antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, stimulants, sedatives, and mood stabilizers to manage symptoms. Psychiatrists can also prescribe other forms of treatment like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), light therapy, and other types of brain stimulation.

Knowing Which Specialist to Consult?

If a person is going through a worrying amount of stress and displays symptoms of anxiety and depression, a psychologist can be consulted. The psychologist will then take the patient through therapy to help them navigate the problem.

When a person is suffering from more severe forms of mental illness, a psychiatrist is consulted. Symptoms of severe mental illness include extreme fluctuations in mood, behaviour and disruptions in daily life as a result of the illness. The psychiatrist diagnoses the problem and prescribes a course of treatment to help control the patient’s mental state.

In some cases, where a patient requires therapy and medication, a psychologist and psychiatrist need to be consulted in parallel.