What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?” This is a question that I get asked fairly frequently. In both public and private practice settings the two disciplines work together fairly closely.
Psychologists of course study psychology. In Australia, this is a minimum of six years of undergraduate and postgraduate training. After that, there are another two years before you can get your registration as a psychologist. To practice under an area of endorsement (e.g., clinical psychology) the current requirements are 8 years of undergraduate and postgraduate training followed by a further two years under the registrar training program.
A psychiatrist, on the other hand, is a medical professional. A psychiatrist has studied medicine and has completed general medical training. Psychiatry is a speciality within the field of medicine.
After completing general medical training, a psychiatrist studies for another five or six years minimum before being able to practice as a psychiatrist.
One of the main differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that a psychiatrist, being medically trained, can prescribe medications whereas a psychologist cannot. A psychiatrist can also provide basic medical care, such as checking physical health and assessing the effects of medication.
A psychiatrist can also provide brain stimulation therapy, otherwise known as ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).
More Severe Mental Illness
Psychiatrists tend to work with people who have more severe categories of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder. In these conditions, the evidence shows that the best practice is a combination of medication and talk therapy.
Psychiatrists also work with people who have quite severe levels of depression and anxiety. These people might also be seeing a psychologist, but might need more than one professional to assist them with their mental health.
Both groups, psychiatrists and psychologists, are trained in diagnosing mental illness and in providing talk therapy.
In practice, however, psychiatrists tend to see people for shorter consultations. This is primarily because there are far fewer psychiatrists than there are psychologists, and demand for their services therefore is much higher.
A psychiatrist is much more likely to prescribe medication as part of the treatment plan. Bearing this in mind, when should you consider seeing a psychiatrist?
If you are considering medication, it might be an idea to book an appointment to talk with your GP first of all.
Talk with your GP about whether getting a second opinion and a more in depth assessment with a psychiatrist might be of benefit to you. Ask what your options might be if you do decide to take the route of medication.
A psychiatrist will also be able to give you some recommendations regarding medication.
Benefits Of Talk Therapy
What we do know though, is that more often than not the more conservative treatments, i.e. talking therapy should be considered before going on psychiatric medications.
Even if you are on medications related to mental health, the evidence still shows that medication plus therapy gives the best results.
So I hope this short post has been helpful in highlighting the differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
If you have any other questions related to psychology or mental health, let me know and I will do what I can to answer.
Thanks a lot for reading.