Psychiatrist vs Psychologist

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Confused over whether you need a psychiatrist or a psychologist? The name sounds similar.

So then which one is right for you?

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who then decides to specialise in psychological issues and wellbeing. So they did all their years of medical school and as a medical trainee, then they also did add on years studying mental health illnesses and disorders.

Psychiatrists specialise in diagnosing mental illness and creating a treatment plan, which may or may not include medication.

They are the only form of mental health practitioner who has the right to prescribe medication.

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is someone who generally took a degree in psychology, then decided to continue with a masters in a form of psychology.

If they are working one-on-one with clients, this would be a counselling psychology MA (mental health issues), or educational psychology MA (learning differences). Clinical psychologists, on the other hand, work in research and labs.

A counselling psychologist is someone who specialises in helping you advance in life and feel better. They are on par with a psychotherapist, but can also approach things from a psychological research angle instead of psychotherapeutic theories.

An educational psychologist works with children, or even with schools, to diagnose learning differences. They can also work with adults to offer IQ and learning tests.

Psychiatrist vs psychologist

First of all, there are similarities. Both of these mental health practitioners:

  • want you to feel mentally and emotionally better
  • will know about mental health issues and disorders
  • can choose to be a generalist, or have a specialty, like ADHD, learning differences, or working with kids.

But the differences when it comes to a psychiatrist vs psychologist are:

A medical doctor who studied mental health disorders vs a psychology student who studied helping clients with mental health

Can prescribe medication and a treatment plan vs can provide talk therapy and psychological testing

Can diagnose mental health disorders vs can diagnose learning differences if they are an educational psychologist.

You will see at most once a month vs you will tend to see weekly.

Are they two related?

They can be, because a psychiatrist can refer you to a psychologist. This might be for a series of learning tests if they think it relevant. Or it could be that after diagnosing you with something like depression or an anxiety disorder, they feel talk therapy should be part of your treatment. So you are referred on to a counselling psychologist.

And a counselling psychologist might refer you to a psychiatrist. If you go to a psychologist for help with, say, relating issues and anxiety? And after a few sessions, they suspect you have a personality disorder, or major depression? They might refer you on for an official diagnosis, or perhaps medications.

But can’t my psychiatrist offer me talk therapy?

There are some psychiatrists out there who have taken additional courses in psychotherapy, and provide talk therapy as well. But this is not really part of the definition of a psychiatrist here in the UK. It's a misconception mostly arising from American TV, as in America the training is different for psychiatrists.

What psychiatrists will do, however, is monitor your progress, which means sessions every month or few months to discuss how you are feeling and what progress has been made. They'll also look at how well your meds are working, if you are taking them.

What about price ranges?

Psychiatrists tend to be the most expensive of all mental health practitioners.

So if you are depressed or anxious but coping, it can be more economical to go to a talk therapist like a psychotherapist or counselling psychologist first.

They can then give you a professional opinion over whether it makes sense to go see a psychiatrist as well. And they can at the same time already be helping you with coping tools, giving you a head start on any treatment plan a psychiatrist might suggest.

What about for my child?

There are child psychologists and child psychiatrists, and the differences are the same. If your child is anxious or has mood changes, and if the issues are connected to learning and school or social skills, a child psychologist can be a good start.

Time to stop just coping and start actually becoming your best self? We provide registered psychologists for both children and adults.

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