What Does A Psychologist Do In Comparison To A Psychiatrist?

Updated January 03, 2020

Reviewer Aaron Horn

Some people hear the words "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" and think they are the same thing, just with alternative spellings. To the average person, this belief makes sense. Both are medical professionals who treat mental health issues. However, if you want to seek help for your mental health issues, it's good to know the differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. In this post, we shall discuss them.

Psychologist

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First, let's take a look at the career of a psychologist. A psychologist helps diagnose and treat those who have mental disorders. A person may go to a psychologist for more than just mental disorders, however. Someone may see a psychologist because of a situational issue, such as a major change in their life. Life changes can cause mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

For those who have mental disorders, a psychologist may employ different tests to learn more about the patient. The tests can help the psychologist map the patient's personality and allow the psychologist to make treatments based on the patient's character. These tests are also good for diagnosing.

Once the psychologist has diagnosed the patient's condition, they can use various methods to treat the condition. Psychologists are not as focused on medicine and focus on talk therapy instead. Therapy methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help the person who is having trouble by changing how they think and approach different situations.

A psychologist may work with one person at a time, but they can also work as a group therapist as well.

As mentioned above, they are not focused on medicinal treatments of mental health issues. If a patient needs medicine, a psychologist usually isn't the one who will prescribe it. In almost all states, they will work with other medical professionals to prescribe the medicine that can treat the patient.

A psychologist will work in various settings. These can include private businesses, hospitals, schools, prisons, rehab, and so much more. Finding a psychologist usually isn't that difficult, and you should be able to find one with availability by searching the internet.

Education

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A psychologist is highly trained and has received years of education. They have an undergraduate degree and an additional 4-6 years of graduate and doctoral studies. The mind, practice and the ethics involved in psychology take a long time to study. A psychologist will go through internships, take tests, and do various other tasks before obtaining their license. A psychologist's education never ends, even after they have graduated.

Now for the definition of a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is also employed to help those who have mental issues. These issues can be long-lasting or something that happened suddenly. A psychiatrist works in the field of psychiatry, which is a field that treats, diagnosis, and prevents different mental disorders.

Diagnosing Clients

As a psychologist, a psychiatrist will help those who are struggling by using various tests to ensure a proper diagnosis. These usually come in the form of talking to the patient at first so the patient can explain their symptoms. However, talking to the patient alone usually isn't enough for a proper diagnosis. A good psychiatrist will look at the genetic history of the patient to see if there is a family history of mental illness. The person who is diagnosed will be treated once the psychiatrist is sure that they have the right diagnosis.

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How They Find Mental Disorders

A psychiatrist will rely on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM, to potentially learn what mental disorder the patient has. The DSM is currently on its fifth edition, and it allows the psychiatrist to properly diagnose a set of symptoms.

How Psychiatrists Treat Patients

Psychiatrists will use a few different tools to treat the patient. Here are a few of them.

  • Talk therapy. Just like a psychologist, a psychiatrist may begin by trying to change the patient's mind. Sometimes, a person who will listen and respond to the patient can help them out. Talk therapy can last a few sessions or could take years to be a success. Every case is different. Different types of therapy may be used for different situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common and empirically validated mode of treatment. This modality can treat anxiety, depression, and various other mental conditions too.
  • Unlike a psychologist, a psychiatrist can prescribe medications. They have been specifically trained to understand the impacts and side effects of what they prescribe. They have additional knowledge of psychoactive medications that is beyond what a typical family doctor possesses. A psychiatrist can help treat depression, PTSD, BPD, and anxiety with antidepressants. For those who have hallucinations, schizophrenia, and similar disorders, they can use antipsychotics. Hypnotics may be used to induce sleep. They may use pills to stabilize mood. Sometimes, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is needed to get the best results.
  • ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. There is a bit of a stereotype when it comes to treatment with ECT. They imagine someone strapped down and having their brain electrocuted. While ECT does exist, it may not be what you think it is. The brain is gently stimulated using electrical impulses and magnetic fields. This stimulates your brain, and it can treat severe depression and other mental disorders that do not respond to medicine or talk therapy.

A psychiatrist should use all the tools they have to help the patient heal. Typically a psychiatrist uses a combination of talk therapy and medications.

Education

Like a psychologist, a psychiatrist spends years pursuing their education and internships. Then they get their license through a state exam. Once they get their license, they need to train for four years to become a full psychiatrist. Once they complete the training they need, many psychiatrists take an exam to be board certified. They must retake the exam every few years to keep their certification. If they choose to specialize in a specific area, they may continue to train to become a child psychiatrist or addiction specialist.

So like a psychologist, they spend a lot of time training. Once they get their job, they can work in various locations such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, universities, nursing homes, and other places that require someone to treat a person who has mental health issues.

What Does A Psychologist Do When Compared To A Psychiatrist?

As you can see, both professions are quite similar, but there are a few differences between them. They both treat mental disorders and can diagnose their patients. Both can talk to their patients and employ various ways of treating them. Here are a few major differences.

  • A psychiatrist is someone who works as a medical doctor, while a psychologist is not. While a psychologist has many techniques they can use to diagnose and treat, a psychiatrist has medicinal options too.
  • Most people who are a psychologist can't prescribe medicine to the clients. A psychologist may request assistance from a psychiatrist or a doctor to prescribe the medicine, but they are not usually the people who are writing the prescription.
  • People can go to psychologists for less severe mental problems. Someone who has mild depression or insomnia may see a psychologist. But someone who has been struggling with severe medical conditions, or has had sudden intense mental disorders, may see a psychiatrist.
  • You can't just walk into a psychiatrist's office and be a patient. You need to have a referral from someone else, such as a general practitioner. Meanwhile, someone can usually schedule with a psychologist at any time.

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Seek Help!

Now that you know the difference between the two professions, you can better decide who you need to see. Whatever the choice is, it's a good thing to seek help as soon as you can. Even a minor condition may need treatment. That occasional bout of depression can evolve into something worse if left untreated.

Even if you just need someone to talk to, it's worth finding someone who can help. A therapist can assist you with various issues, such as life problems or getting the motivation you need to achieve your goals. By talking to someone, they can help you live a better life.


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