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Psych 101: The difference between psychiatry and psychology

March 10, 2020 • read

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Psych 101: The difference between psychiatry and psychology

Navigating a mental health challenge is difficult. Especially with so many professionals who all have complex titles that start with “psych.” That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know about two of the most commonly confused terms. 

Navigating a mental health challenge is difficult. Especially with so many professionals who all have complex titles that start with “psych.” That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know about two of the most commonly confused terms. 

What is a psychologist? What is a psychiatrist? And when should you see a psychologist vs a psychiatrist? Read on for all you need to know about the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists.

How psychiatrists and psychologists approach mental health

Both psychologists and psychiatrists specialize in human behaviour and mental conditions. But they don’t treat mental health in the same way.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists focus on things like biology and neurochemistry to help determine the cause of mental illnesses. They often prescribe medications to physically treat a condition alongside methods like talk therapy. 

Psychologist

Psychologists, on the other hand, focus on your personal behaviours to diagnose mental illnesses. They’ll often monitor sleep, behaviours, or eating habits, and probe into the negative thoughts that could be causing your issue.

Difference in education/training

Both psychologists and psychiatrists go through rigorous, extensive training in their fields, their education is very different from one another.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are medical doctors, meaning they’ve earned a degree in medicine. They have much of the same training as a doctor you’d see in a family practice, except they’ve chosen to focus their expertise on treating mental illness and undergone an additional 4 or more years of training specifically in psychiatry. 

Psychologist

Psychologists have a PhD in psychology, but aren’t trained in medicine. That’s why a psychologist can’t prescribe medication.  However, because of their focus on the behavioural and emotional causes of mental illness, they can often offer a wider variety of therapy options than a psychiatrist.

How psychiatrists and psychologists treat mental health concerns

Just like their training, there are different treatment methods used by psychiatrists vs psychologists.

Psychiatrist

Because they can write prescriptions, psychiatrists usually use a combination of medications and talk therapy to help address their patient’s issues.

When prescribing new medications, psychiatrists will request frequent updates from their patients to ensure the medications and dosages are helping. It can take some time to find the right dosage and/or balance of medications to help a patient while having the least possible side effects.  

Psychologist

They don’t have the ability to give prescriptions to their patients, but psychologists often use different, more diverse types of therapy to diagnose and treat mental illness.

Certain unique types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, may be used to help uncover the underlying emotional causes of your mental illness.

Common conditions treated by psychiatrists and psychologists

Since they don’t take the same training or follow the same methods for identifying/treating mental illness, it makes sense that psychiatrists and psychologists treat different types of conditions.

Psychiatrist

For someone with a very serious mental health problem, which might make it hard for them to take care of themselves, or someone who needs medication to adjust certain chemical levels in their brains, psychiatrists are a good choice.

Some examples of mental illnesses they treat are:

Psychologist

By the same token, if you have long-term emotional issues, are having difficulty processing traumatic events or have recently noticed changes in your emotional well-being, psychologists could be a good fit for you.

 They treat mental illnesses such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Coping with phobias (fears)
  • Insomnia
  • PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)

Bottom line

So, now that we’ve clarified all of that, what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

In summary, they’re two different means to the same end. They both identify and treat mental illnesses for their patients. However, they each specialize in treating different kinds of mental illnesses, and often they offer treatments and solutions in different ways.

They both examine factors that could be causing your illness, but psychiatrists can offer prescriptions to their patients and psychologists can’t. Psychologists are trained in a different variety of specialty therapies for treating patients than psychiatrists. 

If you’re still not sure whether a psychiatrist or a psychologist is the right choice for you, the best first step is to talk with a GP. They can help determine the best course of treatment for you and order tests like blood work that may help determine if your concerns are caused by an emotional trigger or an underlying chemical imbalance.

To securely and confidentially connect with one of our psychiatrists or GPs online, sign up for an account with Maple.

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