What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

clinical psychology and psychiatry are two disciplines applied in the field of mental health that are often confused. The type of problems they address and their working methods may present a certain similarity, but there are clear differences between the two.

If you want to avoid confusion of this kind, this article may be useful for you to see the differences between the psychologist and the psychiatrist and to distinguish both types of professional profiles.

If you have doubts about the role of mental health professionals, check this post: “The difference between psychologist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist”

Differences between the psychologist and psychiatrist

1. The academic journey of each discipline

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have very different backgrounds. The former come from the Psychology undergraduate and graduate programs and then specialize in clinical psychology , while psychiatrists go through the medical school and then specialize in the branch of psychiatry .

Therefore, the skills and knowledge of both professionals are very different: the psychiatrist has more knowledge about the human body as an organism and its neurological functioning, while the psychologist is more trained in social sciences and cultural dynamics.

2. The approaches are often different

As a consequence of the previous point, another difference between the psychologist and the psychiatrist is found in the approach used. The psychiatrist has a biological approach to human behaviour and its affective states, and therefore focuses on the physiological and chemical aspects of the human body (above all, those related to the nervous system and hormones).

For his or her part, the psychologist may adopt more heterogeneous positions that place more emphasis on the social context, personal relationships and culture (although he or she may also adopt an approach centred on the patient’s organism as something isolated, depending on the type of psychological current to which he or she ascribes.

3. The type of problems they address

Psychiatrists tend to deal with the more problematic mental problems , while the phenomena dealt with by psychologists are more heterogeneous. This is because psychiatrists tend to focus their activity on those improvements that can be produced through pharmacological treatments , and these are discouraged in most people who do not have a diagnosed mental disorder because of the multiple side effects they can have.

Psychologists, although they can also intervene as support and in almost all cases treated by psychiatrists or directly complement the psychiatric approach, can also offer their services to practically any person without serious alterations, even if no particular psychopathology has been diagnosed.

4. The method of intervention

Another difference between the psychologist and the psychiatrist is in their approach to the patient’s problems. A psychiatrist almost always uses more or less invasive methods , as the problems he treats are more severe. Furthermore, as a psychiatrist is a doctor, he is legally entitled to prescribe drugs , which is not the case for psychologists, who provide psychological counselling and propose techniques based on habits and behaviour.

Learn more: “Types of psychological therapy”

In short…

In short, the two disciplines are sufficiently different to have their own areas of application, but that does not mean that they are not complementary: they often are.

To speak of differences between the psychologist and the psychiatrist is also to recognize their own lines of training and work as relatively independent paths, but what is clear is that both approaches are useful when it comes to intervening in mental health .

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