Psychiatrists vs. Psychologists: What’s The Difference?

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While psychiatrists and psychologists are both mental health professionals, the major difference between the two is that a psychiatrist is a licensed medical physician (M.D.) and can prescribe drugs, while a psychologist is not a medical physician and is not licensed to prescribe drugs. 

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two professions. 

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Psychiatrists attend medical school and are trained in general medicine. They are medical physicians (MDs). After completing 8 years of medical school and earning an MD, they complete a minimum of 4 years of residency training in psychiatry. Their experience typically includes working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital with different types of patients, ranging from children and adolescents with behaviour disorders to adults with severe cases of mental illness. Psychiatrists are the only mental health specialists who are licensed to give full physical examinations and to prescribe drugs.

Psychologists must earn a PhD or PsyD doctoral degree. This can take from about 4 years to 6 years. They receive training in psychological research and personality assessments. During their education, psychology students learn personality development, the science of psychological research and the history of psychological problems. Graduate school provides meticulous preparation for a career in psychology by teaching students how to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders in various situations.

After completion of graduate school, psychology students are required to complete a 1 to 2 year internship where they gain exposure to: 

  • Various treatment methods
  • Psychological theory
  • Behavioural therapy
  • Analytical testing
  • Problem-solving techniques

In order to become licensed post internship, most states also require one or two years of practical work experience supervised by an authorized mental health professional.

Psychologists do not have any medical degrees and are not medical doctors. However they have advanced degrees such as Masters in counselling and they also have more training in psychological research and personality assessment.

There are a few overlaps between the work that a psychologist does and what a psychiatrist does. Psychologists focus on studying the mind, which includes psychopathology or the study of disturbed mind.

Type of work

Because they have received medical training, psychiatrists are qualified to administer different types of non-medical therapies as well as somatic therapies such as psychotropic medication and electro-convulsive therapy.

As a psychologist, you can specialise in about 40 different specialties.

Method of Treatment

Psychiatrists treat variety of patients, from children and adolescents with behaviour disorders to adults with severe cases of mental illness and prescribe medications.

Psychologists treat emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioural intervention. They provide counselling, conduct psychological testing and assessment.

Psychologists and psychiatrists will often join hands and work together for the well-being of the client as their work areas overlap. However, the differences lie in the techniques that they use. Psychologists use approaches such as psychotherapy, hypnosis, counselling and relaxation. While psychiatrists can also use these techniques while treating a patient, they are also allowed to prescribe medication to their patients. For example a patient with schizophrenia would see a psychiatrist and not a psychologist. 

The fields of psychology and psychiatry are both essential as far as researching and developing treatment for improving mental and emotional health. Despite their differences, both these professionals share a common goal, which is to help people feel better.

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