If you ever wondered about seeking help for mental health, you know that taking that first step may be challenging on its own. However, if you are not familiar with the field, it may also be confusing what kind of practice is suitable for you and the goals you wish to achieve. How do you know if you’re looking for a psychologist or a psychiatrist?
When it comes to psychologists and psychiatrists, there’s often a misconception that these fields are the same. Although there’s an overlap with both psychologists and psychiatrists treating patients struggling with mental health, there are key differences in education, training, scope of practice, and treatment. That is why it is important to understand the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, especially if you require a psychiatrist.
So, what are the main differences between psychologists and psychiatrists? What types of treatment can a psychiatrist offer that a psychologist can’t (and vice versa)? Should you see a psychologist or a psychiatrist? We answer all of your questions below.
Psychologists are registered health professionals who specialise in treating human behaviour, thoughts and emotions through talk and behaviour therapy. Although they are doctors, psychologists are not medical doctors, meaning they aren’t required to go to a medical school and aren’t licensed to prescribe medication. This is the key distinction between psychologists and psychiatrists (as a psychiatrist must have medical credentials).
While they don’t have the medical credentials that a psychiatrist has, Psychologists must have a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Doctorate, with some psychologists also undertaking further training in clinical psychology, neuropsychology, forensic psychology etc.
Like with psychiatrists, it’s not uncommon for a psychologist to specialise in multiple areas of mental health disorders which can include working with patients with:
Anxiety, stress and depression
Drug and alcohol abuse
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Relationship and marital issues
Sleep and insomnia
Additionally, psychologists also provide counselling and therapy to mentally healthy people to help them function better in their day-to-day lives. This includes providing guidance and support and teaching coping strategies to people under extreme stress, learning difficulties or going through significant life changes.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in understanding the biological factors within mental health conditions by assessing neurological and biochemical abnormalities. Psychiatrists, despite also providing talk and behaviour therapy, are more focused on building a treatment course plan aimed for managing symptoms through medication and psychotherapy.
Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists must have a medical degree as well as extended residency training in diagnoses and treatments of various mental health conditions. From there, many psychiatrists may also continue their training to become certified in areas of specialty.
Typically psychiatrists specialise in more severe mental health conditions, which require medical treatment and medications. The conditions that psychiatrists tend to specialise in include:
Borderline personality disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
It is also important to remember that psychiatrists and psychologists often tend to work together. A patient may be initially diagnosed and prescribed medication by a psychiatrist and then referred to a psychologist for ongoing treatment.
Lastly, both practicing psychologists and psychiatrists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regular Agency (AHPRA).
If you are still unsure whether to see psychologists or a psychiatrists, it is important to consider the following:
Your primary concerns and potential diagnosis
The kind of treatment you wish to undertake (i.e. spend time talking about an issue with a psychologist vs. pursuing medications for symptom relief via psychiatrists).
The severity and longevity of your condition (remember, a psychiatrist will be more likely to diagnose and treat a severe condition than a psychologist)
When choosing psychologists or psychiatrists pay attention to the following:
Main areas of interest and experience
How much you are willing to spend for a psychologist or psychiatrists
At Talked, we are passionate about making mental health support accessible to everybody. We aim to provide you with the tools you need to connect with qualified psychologists easily and quickly.
It is important that you assess different options to find a professional that suits your individual goals, regardless of whether you’re looking for psychiatrists or psychologists.
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