It is a common experience for individuals to mistake a psychologist with a psychiatrist or vice versa. Most people do not know the difference between the two nor know which professional to seek out when they are looking for help for whatever challenges they are experiencing. This is often because the two professionals usually work together for their patients or clients. At times their professional roles overlap.
Psychologists and psychiatrists also receive very different educational training as well as in practice. While both are typically trained to practice psychotherapy, their differences in training and background render different approaches in treating mental health problems. Both psychiatrists and psychologists study the mind and how it affects an individual’s overall wellness.
Psychologists have specialized training in the area of human cognition and behaviors. They have earned a doctorate degree in the field of psychology and will either be considered a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), with both degrees having a focus on clinical applications and methodological aspects of the field.
Before earning their degree, psychology students must complete a supervised internship that can last one to two years. Following their internship, many states require a postdoctoral fellowship. This consists of an additional one to two years of practical work experience supervised by a licensed psychologist and is needed to become eligible for licensure. A licensed psychologist has completed all educational requirements, internships, and post-doctoral fellowships, as well as passed an extensive licensing examination.
Psychologists can specialize in psychological testing and evaluation, which includes intellectual testing, cognitive testing, or personality testing, to name a few. They use information from clinical interviews and the test data to accurately interpret the information, provide diagnoses, and guide treatment. The background information gathered from the interview as well as the test data are written into a report which includes diagnostic information, recommendations, and is used to either develop a treatment plan or provide necessary referrals. The testing process is thoroughly explained to the patient and each patient has a “feedback” session with the psychologist, where the time is utilized to explain the test results and findings.
Psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat psychological problems resulting from, or related to, mental and physical health.
Psychiatrist receives the same medical school education that medical doctors do. They have a Doctor of Medicine degree, also known as (M.D.). After receiving their M.D., psychiatrists are required to complete four years of psychiatry residency. Training takes place in in-patient, out-patient, and emergency room settings.
Psychiatrists learn specific treatment plans for medical conditions, the functions, and systems of the human body, as well as the history and physical examination skills. Psychiatrists use a variety of treatments – including various forms of psychotherapy, medications, psychosocial interventions, and other treatments (such as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT), depending on the needs of each patient. The frequency in which psychiatrists will see their clients will vary depending on the need of the individual.
Psychiatrists can work in a variety of settings such as; nursing homes, private practices, clinics, general and psychiatric hospitals, military settings, university medical centers, community agencies, emergency rooms, courts and prisons, industry, government, rehabilitation programs, and hospice programs. Psychiatrists, being medical doctors, rely more on pharmacological approaches in combination with the most common therapy for given disorders.
Overall, like psychologists, psychiatrists evaluate, diagnose, and treat individuals with mental disorders, in addition to prescribing medication.
How Psychologists and Psychiatrists Work Together
Neither professional is more important than the other, however, they work together as a team to treat mental health problems. Together, psychiatrists and psychologists determine the best treatment plans for individuals, depending on what they need.
If an individual needs medication, they are often referred to a psychiatrist – by a psychologist – to ensure their medication needs are met. An individual may need a psychological evaluation or intensive psychotherapy services, so a psychiatrist may refer the individual to a psychologist.
Psychiatrists and psychologists also work together in hospitals as part of mental health teams. It is important to determine the type of services an individual needs when determining if a psychologist, psychiatrist, or both are needed to improve one’s mental health. If there is uncertainty about whether to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660.