At its core, both psychology and psychiatry are professions that address something that is amiss within a person, whether it’s at the level of subjective responses (or the way it’s being handled by society) or whether it’s at the level of brain and body chemistry and how it relates to how one perceives the world. Seeing as they both serve functions that overlap to an extent, people often get the two confused. It’s understandable as to why that happens, but this article will clear up any confusions regarding the matter!
This article is structured in a way to draw attention to the differences. For each section, we’ll start by mentioning the difference between the two professions, and then elaborate as to why and how that difference came into being.
Without further ado, then – the key differences between psychology and psychiatry. Or rather, between psychologists and psychiatrists.
Difference between Psychologists and Psychiatrists
1. Psychiatrists and Licensed Doctors, While Psychologists are Medical Professionals.
A psychiatrist has the license to prescribe medication, owing to the fact that they had to study the human body in detail in their journey to become a psychiatrist. Psychologists, on the other hand, cannot prescribe medication, but can only provide a range of therapies to make sure that their patients can overcome their life’s many challenges.
Psychiatrist’s primary point of entry into their patient is their body, and how it responds to the environment, whereas for a psychologist, their primary point of entry is usually the mind – how a patient perceives the world, how their thought patterns are structured, and so on.
A psychiatrist typically diagnoses mental disorders using medical tests, while a psychologist uses subjective interviews, tests, and questionnaires to arrive at a diagnosis; and even at the stage, they are not legally allowed to prescribe medicines.
2. Psychiatrist Study Diseases, While Psychologists Study the Human Mind-Body Spectrum
For the most part, psychologists usually have at least a Master’s Degree or a Master’s in Philosophy degree. To acquire one of these degrees takes several years worth of effort, including rigorous training and supervision – so that they don’t end up making mistakes of any kind once they become licensed professionals. The key focus of a psychologist is to make sure that a person can adjust to their surroundings in a way that they can still retain a sense of themselves.
Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are people who choose the specialization for psychiatry as and when they reach the end of their medical degree. At that point, they have to spend at least another year focusing just on psychiatry – which is mainly the intersection of the body with the mind, and especially with chemical pathways not working the way they should in a healthy person.
This is the reason why psychiatrists typically handle mental disorders that have a physical component – such as schizophrenia, which severely impacts brain chemistry, and therefore requires medicines.
That covers the majority of the differences between the two professions. Now let’s look at the similarities in a way that the differences get further highlighted.
Similarities Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists
As we’ve mentioned before, both professions are concerned with repairing something that has gone missing in a human – whether it’s at the level of body chemistry or internal perceptions. But in spite of the differences, there are some similarities as well, which will be helpful for a person to understand. It can help make all the difference if they’re looking for a psychiatrist or a psychologist, since knowing whom to go to can have a massive impact.
1. They can Both Offer Therapy, but Treatment Approaches Usually Vary.
Psychologists are typically trained in a wide variety of psychotherapeutic approaches, while psychiatrists usually don’t have a very in-depth understanding of how to solve mental issues outside of prescribing medication. Of course, that’s a blanket statement, but the truth is that the ground realities can be very limiting when it comes to talking therapy.
Psychiatrists who work in villages, for instance, cannot provide a space for talk therapy for their patients because they see a huge volume of patients every day – so the only method they have for providing support is medicines.
Psychologists, however, usually do not work at such a large scale, since they go in-depth with each and every client. Moreover, psychiatrists only deal with disorders that impact brain chemistry – such as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, etc, whereas psychologists offer their services for a large number of other problems, some of which aren’t even classified as issues in the typical medical sense.
2. They Often Work with Each other in a Support Role.
Continuing from the earlier point, the way infrastructural systems have structured themselves, psychiatrists and psychologists often need to work with each other. In fact, one of the good things about how psychologists and psychiatrists approach their work is that they can both rely on each other for essential cues and work together to support clients in a way that best utilises both their experiences in different areas.
This is why if a person goes to a psychologist complaining of chronic depression, which does not recover after a specified amount of time in therapy, the psychologist will refer them to a psychiatrist who will prescribe medication.
In this case, they will be able to monitor the patient’s progress together. Similarly, if a client goes to their psychiatrist and complains of frustration and irritation, then a psychiatrist won’t prescribe them any medication but will rather refer them to a psychologist instead.
Checkout: Skills Needed to be Psychologist
Whether you’ve read this article because you want to visit a psychologist or a psychiatrist for medical reasons, or because you are considering becoming one, we urge you to make the choice that’s right for you! There’s no one shoe that fits us all, so the more you can think from your context and your perspective, the better things will be for you. All the very best for what’s to come!
The best pathway to establishing a solid foundation in Psychology is to take up courses or programs in this domain. While you can opt for traditional undergraduate courses, you can also opt for diploma or certification programs in Psychology. For instance, upGrad has partnered with the University of Essex Online to deliver a host of excellent choices in Psychology.