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Psychologist vs psychiatrist: whom to approach?

Psychologist vs psychiatrist

Psychologist vs psychiatrist

Life has never been easy for anyone. It seems that every time we get through a difficult situation, another difficult situation presents itself in front of us. Sometimes, we discuss our problems with our friends, family, and close relatives. They help us find solutions. At other times, we need help from a mental health practitioner. However, whom to approach? Psychologist? Or psychiatrist? In this article, I will discuss psychologists vs psychiatrists. What is the difference between the two and when should you approach whom?

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Psychologist vs psychiatrist

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Psychologist vs Psychiatrist

When we look for mental health practitioners, we may come across many different terms like psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and so forth. However, how do we decide whom to approach?

Chances are that you are not clear about the meaning behind these different titles and that is the root cause of your confusion. The largest confusion that people face when it comes to psychologists vs psychiatrists is that the names are most often used synonymously. However, their work modalities are very different from one another.

Psychiatry and psychology are key professions when dealing with mental health. However, they are not the same at all. Let’s look at psychologists vs psychiatrists.

Psychologist vs psychiatrist: who are they?

If I go for a precise definition, I would say psychology is the branch of science that deals with the study of human behavior and the mind. Those who practice psychology are referred to as psychologists. Their prime responsibility is to study how humans think and feel in different social settings. They are considered to be experts in understanding human behavior.

Psychiatrists on the other hand study psychiatry. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine. It’s primarily responsible for dealing with the treatment of emotional disturbances, mental illnesses, and abnormal behavior. Psychiatrists are responsible for looking at the neurological, biological, and biochemical abnormalities that may present innovation. They are responsible for diagnosing mental illness and prescribing medication for the treatment of the same.

who are they?

In the field of mental health, psychology and psychiatry are related to an extent. Sometimes, a patient may need help from both psychologists and psychiatrists to get well. These two professions share one common goal: to help people lead functional and healthy life.

Psychologist vs psychiatrist: difference

There are several differences that you will come across when understanding psychologists vs psychiatrists. Their approaches to their work, educational path, and treatment modalities are different. Unfortunately, the two titles are used in a very interchangeable manner in today’s society. However, this does not mean that the two professions are the same. These two professions are widely different and I will discuss the differences between the two

Treatment modalities

The primary difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists treat illnesses via the use of medications via psychologists treat the illness via the use of therapy.

If you go to a psychiatrist, they will go for a medicine-first approach. Once they have diagnosed your condition, they will build a treatment plan for you that will focus on managing your symptoms through the use of a variety of medications and psychotherapy. Psychiatrists are trained in psychotherapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, etc., However, they most often focus on using the medicine for the treatment of the patient.

On the other hand, if you go to a psychologist, they will primarily utilize different forms of therapies to help you manage the symptoms and cope with your mental health issues. Psychologists are licensed to use various therapeutic formats like psychodynamic therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR therapy, sand therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, gestalt therapy, etc. They also have the license to conduct different psychometric tests. Psychometric tests are used for the evaluation of a person’s attributes and mental health to determine what would be the right course of treatment for the patient.

Is the difference moderately clear? No? Then let’s look at an example.

Suppose a person suffers from depression. He has recently attempted to end his life via suicide. If this person goes to a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist will first go with antidepressant medication to help manage the suicidal tendency that the person is facing. The medication will also make the person more amicable to talking and further treatment. Once the patient has reached a stabilized state, the patient will be referred to a psychologist. The psychologist will then start various therapies to identify the root cause of the person’s depression. Eventually, the psychologists will focus on helping the patient manage their negative thoughts and change their outlook toward the scenario.

Treatment options

Therefore, in many cases, psychologists and psychiatrists have to work together to help their patients.

Psychologist vs psychiatrist: who deals with what?

Psychiatrists deal with mental health disorders. Psychologist deal with a variety of aspects. Psychiatrists are medical doctors. Therefore, they are primarily a part of healthcare settings like hospitals, clinics, or private practices. They are specialized in mental health as a part of health care. Once a psychiatrist has received a degree in psychiatry, they can further pursue a specialization in the field like geriatrics psychiatry, child and adults psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, clinical neurophysiology, addiction psychiatry, sleep medicine, etc.

But if you look at psychology, it is the study of human behavior and understanding of the human mind. Psychology is not only restricted to mental health disorders. It can encompass a wide variety of fields besides treating mental health issues. Psychology is an umbrella term that includes many subfields of the subject. It may include

If you are a graduate of psychology you can decide to specialize in any of the fields depending on your particular interest. However, unless the person has a degree in clinical psychology, they will not be working with patients suffering from mental health disorders.

Psychologist vs psychiatrist: Who can prescribe medicines?

I have already discussed this point before. However, I must emphasize it again. Psychiatrists are a part of the medical field. Therefore, they can prescribe medications to patients who are suffering from diseases like obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, etc. such patients respond very well to medications. Therefore, the psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help the patient manage the symptoms.

On the other hand, a psychologist cannot prescribe any form of medication. They can use psychological tests on the patients to find out what the patient might be suffering from. Following this, they may use a variety of psychotherapy options along with talk therapy and self-help options to help the patient deal with their symptoms. However, if a psychologist comes across a patient who needs medicine to help manage the symptoms, the patient will be referred to a psychiatrist.

Who can give meds?

Psychologist vs psychiatrist: degree

A psychiatrist has a medical degree in psychiatry. The psychiatrist has already completed their bachelor’s followed by a medical degree. Finally, they have done a specialization course in psychiatry. They have at least 10 to 12 years of study under their belt before they start to practice.

On the other hand, a psychologist has a bachelor’s degree in psychology followed by a master’s degree. After a master’s degree, they go for a specialization degree in one of the fields of psychology. It can be clinical psychology, industrial psychology, counseling psychology, child psychology, or any other. If they go for clinical psychology, they can care for patients who suffer from mental health issues. Therefore, to become a psychologist, a person has to spend at least five to nine years studying.

Psychologist vs psychiatrist: Problems they handle

Psychiatrists will only look at patients who have mental health issues. If they need help with complex psychological or medical conditions Like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, panic attacks, severe anxiety, psychotic behavior, autism, ADHD, etc., they will go to a psychiatrist.

On the other hand, if the person is facing a case of anxiety, phobia, low anxiety, anger management, depression, behavioral issues, adjustment difficulties, learning problems, etc, they will approach a psychologist for help.

Whom should you approach first? Psychologist vs psychiatrist

If you are struggling with mental health, acknowledging that you need help is the first step in recovery. The second step is approaching the right person. Here, you may feel confused. You may wonder whether you should go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Understanding which kind of mental health practitioner will be the best for your needs is not easy. If you are confused as to whom you should approach, I would suggest that you consult your general practitioner. Your general practitioner can direct you toward the right person.

If you do not have a general health practitioner, you can go to either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Both of them have enough knowledge and training. They can help you make an informed decision about your treatment’s direction. They also work together many times to help the patient. Therefore, if you go to a psychologist and your psychologist feels that you need medication, your psychologist will refer you to a psychiatrist, and vice versa.

whom to approach? Psychologist vs psychiatrist

However, if you want to make the decision yourself about whom to approach, here are some points that might help you figure out who is a better fit for your condition

Important questions that you must ask: Psychologist vs psychiatrist

Whether you go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, there are certain questions that you may ask them to understand whether they are a good fit for your condition or not. Approaching someone for help is a tough choice Thus, it is best to be completely prepared before your visit. Here are certain questions that you can ask your psychologist or psychiatrist to establish a rapport or get comfortable.

Questions to ask your psychiatrist

Important questions to ask

Questions to ask your psychologist


As I mentioned above, both psychologists and psychiatrists work towards one goal: to help you lead a better life and deal with your mental health condition. Psychologists and psychiatrists are very capable in their own fields and help you get better and receive proper guidance. No one can say that one profession is better than the other. They are both independent and interdependent at the same time. The two professions have their areas of specialization and provide effective results. However, whom you should approach will depend on your needs.

Have you ever been to a psychologist or a psychiatrist? How has your experience been? If you don’t mind sharing a little bit of detail about what you were suffering from and how your experience was, it might encourage someone else to seek the help that they deserve.

Reach me

If you have any queries about this blog post or any others, you can reach me live on Twitch. In case you are struggling to stay motivated, and finding it hard to focus on your studies, join me in my coworking stream. Study stream sessions can be of great help for people who are facing difficulty in focus. These sessions help you maintain accountability and boost your focus. The co-working stream is done every day from 11 AM to 7 PM Indian Standard Time. I also host mental health sessions every Tuesday and Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 PM.

If you wish to stay updated with all the latest news from the world of mental health, please subscribe to Guilt Free Mind. Your subscription will allow me to notify you the moment I release the next blog post. This way, you will say updated with everything on the blog. If you like watching videos, do not forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel of Guilt Free Mind. Don’t forget to ring the notification bell.

See you in my next blog post

Dr. Shruti

Frequently ask questions

Should I go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist?

In case you need medication for the condition that you are suffering from, you must go to a psychiatrist. However, if you don’t want to go down the medication route, if you want to discuss your problems and find an effective self-help option, you should go to a psychiatrist. If you are at a point where you are uncertain, a psychologist is a good option.

How does a psychologist defer from a psychiatrist?

Psychologists have a degree in psychology. Psychiatrists have degrees in psychiatry. Psychiatrists are medical doctors while psychologists may have a doctorate in psychology. Psychiatrists can prescribe your medication to help you manage your symptoms while psychologists will focus on providing you will self-help options so you can manage your symptoms on your own in the future.

Is psychiatry a branch of psychology?

Psychiatry is a branch that primarily treats mental illnesses. Psychology compasses much more than that. Psychology contains industrial psychology, clinical psychology, child psychology, and a variety of other fields.

Can psychologists diagnose mental illnesses?

Can psychologists diagnose mental illnesses?

Can psychologists prescribe medication?

If you need medication a psychologist will direct you or refer you to a psychiatrist. A psychologist cannot prescribe medication unless they are in the following five states in the US: New Mexico, Louisiana, Idaho Iowa, and Illinois.

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