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Psychology vs Psychiatry: Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry

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4th Mar, 2023
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Psychology vs Psychiatry: Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry

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 confusion regarding the matter!

This article is structured in a way to draws 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.

Psychiatrists’ primary point of entry into their patients 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; even at the stage, they are not legally allowed to prescribe medicines.

There are various strategies used by psychiatrists for the treatment. Some of those strategies are mentioned below- 

  1. Talk therapy 
  2. Medications 
  3. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
  4. Psychological interventions

Psychologists study how individuals would connect with other individuals and the environment. To study, they use various processes such as cognitive, emotional, behavioural, etc. 

Some of the methods used by psychologists are as follows-

  1. Observation 
  2. Experimental
  3. Correlational
  4. Psychological Testing
  5. Case Studies
  6. Surveys

2. Psychiatrists 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 Psychology 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 of 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. 

These are the main difference between clinical psychologist and psychiatrist. Now you must be able to distinguish between psychology vs psychiatry. A small table is given for your reference while concluding the differences.

PsychologistsPsychiatrists
Hold a psychology degree.Hold a medical degree.
Indulge in providing various types of talk therapies.Provide treatment through assessments, therapy, diagnosis, prescriptions and talk therapy.
Provide psychological testing, counselling, psychotherapy, counselling, etc.Treat medical conditions using medical methods and strategies. 
Key subjects include

  1. Neuropsychology 
  2. Cognitive methodologies
  3. Applied Psychometry 
  4. Development of social psychology 
Key subjects include

  1. Neurodegenerative disorders 
  2. Brain and Mind
  3. Epilepsy 
  4. Therapeutic interventions 
  5. Laws and ethics related to mental health

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, 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.

Along with the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist, there are differences in the questions one would ask the psychologists and psychiatrists as well.  Of course, one would not go ahead and ask the same questions to their psychiatrists and psychologists. 

Questions difference between psychologist and psychiatrist

Questions to ask your psychologistQuestions to ask your psychiatrist
Duration of the treatment.Types of available treatment options.
What would the counselling goals look like?Duration of the medication process.
Anything that needs to be prepared before the first session.Any negative repercussions of skipping medication.
Experience working with people with the same concerns as yours.Any possible side effects of treatment on health.
Duration of each session.Possible chances of developing dependencies on medication.

Checkout: Skills Needed to be Psychologist

Conclusion

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!

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Sandeep Pereira

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Responsible for working with the various teams and other management to establish long-range goals, strategies, plans and policies and set up new programs at upGrad. With a demonstrated history of working in the EdTech industry.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What are the three major reasons why we study psychology?

The three major reasons why study psychology are a.) Better career progressions, b.) Opportunities to work towards mental heath, c.) Ability to make a difference in the individual’s life

2What should I expect from my first visit to a psychologist?

First visit to a psychologist would look like an introduction with the psychologist about themself and they would expect for you to do the same. The introduction would help the psychologist to understand you better that would be useful for future sessions. The psychologist would elaborate on who they are and share how your future sessions would look like.

3What are the three important qualities that psychologists need?

The three important qualities a psychologist need are -a.) Active listening. b.) Empathy, c.) Critical thinking.

4What are the benefits of seeing a psychologist?

Helping to cope with mental health issues is not the only reason, rather a psychologist help the individuals in performing better in their day-to-day lives, such as better relationship with family and friends. Increased concentration is also another benefit of seeing a psychologist.

5What are the four main types of psychology?

The main four types of psychology are Abnmornal psychology, Biopsychology, Cognitive psychology, Forensic psychology.

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