There are times when things get rough and tough for us and we look up to someone with whom we can discuss our problems and reach solutions. The first people we look to are our near and dear ones, however, when things become unmanageable, many seek professional help.
When looking for such professionals, we may com e across many different names with different job titles, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Counsellor, Psychotherapist and so on.
These are names you may have come across often, but may not be entirely clear about their meaning. 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 behaviour, but are not the same. So if you are someone looking to build a career in this arena, or just someone curious to learn more about the world around you, 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 behaviour. 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 behaviour.
On the other hand, Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with the treatment of mental illness, emotional disturbances, and abnormal behaviour. Psychiatrists look at biological, neurological and biochemical abnormalities to diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them.
The fields of Psychology and Psychiatry are both essential in researching about and developing treatments for improving the mental and emotional well being of people. Both share a common goal: helping people lead well-functional and healthy lives.
Differences Between Psychiatrists and Psychologists
The major differences between the two lie in many different areas, including their approaches, areas of work and educational path. Contrary to what most people believe, they are not one and the same thing. Psychiatrists, as I mentioned are medical doctors. Psychologists, while they treat mental disorders, are not restricted to it.
Here are the ways in which they differ:
1. Psychiatrists treat mental issues through medications; Psychologists treat them with therapies
The biggest difference between the two is in the approach they take towards treating mental disorders.
A Psychiatrist takes a medication-first approach in their treatment. Once the diagnosis is done, they build 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 behavioural therapy and more, in a typical mental health care setting, the work of therapies is generally taken care of by Psychologists.
Psychologists primarily utilise 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 Behavioural Therapy, Psycho-dynamic Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Gestalt Therapy, Humanistic Therapy, etc. They are also qualified in conducting psychometric tests, which evaluate a person’s mental state and personal attributes to determine the right course of action for the patient.
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 stabilisation, 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 work together in many mental health-care settings to help patients.
Recommended Read: 5 Popular Myths About A Career in Psychology
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 specialisation is mental health and their work only concerns that. Psychiatrists can specialise 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 behaviour, it can be applied to virtually all fields, mental health being one. The word “Psychologist” is an umbrella term for many different sub-fields of Psychology such as Clinical Psychology, Counselling Psychology, Child Psychology, Sports Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Educational Psychology, and more. Psychology graduates can choose to specialize in any of them, depending on their interest. Thus, Psychologists don’t always work with mental disorders.
Recommended Read: Exhaustive Guide to Becoming a Psychologist and its Scope In India
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. respond well to medications and are primarily treated through them, even though therapy can help.
Psychologists, however, cannot prescribe such medications. They 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. Thus, a total of 7.5 years of study (5.5 years of MBBS + 2 years of M.D.) are required.
Read More: Doctor as a Career in India
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. A total of 5 to 7 years of study (3 years of B.A. + 2 years of M.A. + 2 years if you go for an M.Phil.) are required.
Read More: Psychology as a Career in India
5. Psychiatrists deal with complex psychological conditions; Psychologists deal more with behavioural and developmental issues
Psychiatrists tend to treat people who need help in complex medical and psychological conditions such as severe depression, psychotic behaviour, severe anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, etc.
Psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions that can be treated/managed effectively with psychological treatments, such as behavioural problems, adjustment issues, learning difficulties, mild depression and anxiety.
So here are all the major differences between Psychiatrists and Psychologists! I hope this will help you choose the right profession for yourself. Mental health is a great and rewarding field, but it also requires you to be resilient, empathetic and emotionally stable. If you are looking to build a career in this domain, you should surely evaluate yourself in these areas and take an career assessment to make the right decision.