Ask most people the distinction between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, you’re likely to hear a combination of impressive-sounding information, most of it from medical dramas on television, and most of which are incorrect. So if you’re confused about the difference, don’t feel ashamed because the media almost always completely screws it up. Most TV shows or movies indicate that if you want therapy, you need to go to a psychiatrist, which is just not accurate.
Psychology and psychiatry are both essential in the study and development of treatment to improve mental well-being. At its most practical level, a psychiatrist is a medical specialist who can prescribe medicine while a psychologist handles mental health issues through non-medication psychotherapy or what’s thought of as “talk therapy”. Differences aside, psychologists and psychiatrists share a similar vision: to help people feel better.
What is a psychiatrist?
Psychiatrists must first complete medical school for four years and then complete a minimum of another four years of specialty training in clinical psychiatry. Usually, the first year of psychiatric training includes education in internal medicine, neuropsychology and pediatrics to ensure that psychiatrists are attuned to all bodily processes and functionalities. Extensive medical training enables psychiatrists to detect a diverse variety of possible medical conditions, including medical conditions that masquerade as psychiatric conditions.
Psychiatrists are also qualified to offer a variety of evidence-based psychotherapies, including the use of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. And, although most psychiatrists concentrate on treating mental disorders through medication alone, some psychiatrists opt to practice psychotherapy with a combination of both medicines and therapy.
What is a psychologist?
Psychologists do not actually attend a medical school which means they are not medical doctors, but rather they go to graduate school for 5 to 8 years to earn themselves a doctoral degree, such as a PhD. They specialize in identifying and treating mental health conditions via a range of non-pharmacological and psychotherapy treatments. Several psychologists are also specifically trained in psychological studies, interpretation, and administration.
Not every psychotherapist is a psychologist. Although, some psychotherapists, for instance, are certified clinical social workers or mental health specialists who are also trained to offer a range of psychotherapy treatments. Irrespective of their professional experience, most psychotherapists in the United States are not allowed to prescribe medication, except for psychologists who meet certain criteria in Louisiana, Illinois, Iowa, and New Mexico.
Maybe a little bit. But here is the key thing to remember: psychiatrists and psychologists can both perform psychotherapy, but only psychiatrists can also prescribe medications. Psychiatrists and psychologists also collaborate and refer to each other in order to provide their patients with the appropriate forms of treatment.
If you are still not unsure which one would be right for you, it is quite common for people to be treated by either a psychologist or a psychotherapist, as well as by both, depending on their needs.