Psychiatrists and Psychologists: What’s the Difference?
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Like all fields in the medical industry, mental health care is made up of people with different certifications. There are counselors, therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. Some may assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all situation. But it’s important to know the specific roles that different specialists play in your mental health journey.

Let’s focus on two of the most prevalent job titles that you’ll see when you look up mental health care: psychiatrists and psychologists. Both can help you improve your overall quality of life by addressing your mental health distress and disorders. However, they achieve this goal in different ways due to their training. The main difference is that psychiatrists can prescribe medication while many psychologists can’t. But let’s dive into the details. You’ll see how these two important providers are different and how they can help you.

How to differentiate psychiatrists and psychologists

While both psychiatrists and psychologists focus on improving the mind, they have different ways of doing so, and you can tell just by looking at their titles. The root word of both jobs is “psych,” which means “mind.” The suffix of the word is the first indicator that these two jobs play their own roles. While “-iatry,” as in psychiatry, refers to medical treatment, “-ology” refers to the study. Essentially, psychiatry treats the mind while psychology studies it.

Let’s start off with basic definitions. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. They specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional and behavioral health disorders. A psychologist is a mental health professional. They use psychology to help people improve their mental, emotional and behavioral health.

While the definitions may seem different enough, it will likely be more effective to learn what each one can do to help your mental health.

The job of a psychologist includes:

  • Psychological testing and evaluation
  • Observing the behavior and brain function of clients 
  • Diagnosing psychotic, neuropsychological, personality and neurotic disorders
  • Treating disorders with various psychotherapy approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic therapy and dialectical behavior therapy
  • Helping people develop skills to handle challenges that interfere with mental health

The job of a psychiatrist includes:

  • Diagnosing mental health disorders
  • Designing treatment plans for disorders that combine medication, therapy and behavioral interventions
  • Prescribing and managing medication
  • Adjusting treatment as needed
  • Referring to therapists or psychologists when necessary

The education of each job is also quite different. A psychiatrist goes to medical school to become an M.D. That’s why they’re able to practice pharmacology to prescribe medication. A psychologist usually has a doctoral degree in the study of psychology. Since all therapy professions fall under the umbrella of psychotherapy, all psychologists can be known as therapists. However, that’s not true the other way around.

How to know whether you should see a psychologist or psychiatrist

If you’re struggling with your mental health, then you should talk to your general health provider. They will likely carry out a physical exam and lab tests to determine if there are other medical concerns contributing to your symptoms. Then, they may refer you to either a psychiatrist or psychologist.

If you’ve talked with your doctor about your mental health concerns and they believe that you may be showing symptoms of a disorder, they will likely refer you to a psychiatrist to receive a formal diagnosis that requires a comprehensive treatment plan, including medication. 

If you’re experiencing concerns that might align with a disorder, you might benefit more from talking with a psychologist. They can provide you with therapy to develop the skills needed to manage situations that are interfering with your mental, emotional and behavioral health.

It’s important to know that psychologists and psychiatrists often work together. They can be referred to one another to help provide the best possible treatment for a client.

Lightfully has a team of psychologists and psychiatrists to help your mental health

When it comes to your mental health, it’s important to have a multifaceted support system to help you along the journey. That includes anyone from loved ones to professionals. Psychologists and psychiatrists are essential for helping you receive the safest, most effective treatment for your mental health. That’s why our levels of care at Lightfully give you the opportunity to work with both types of professionals.

Our four levels of care ensure that you receive as much support as possible, with the insight of both psychologists and psychiatrists. We offer Residential Treatment (RTC), a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), a Partial Hospitalization Program and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). 

Our levels consist of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care, provided by experts like psychologists and psychiatrists.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to see how psychiatrists and psychologists can help you, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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