Get unlimited access to
personalised wellness content


Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: 5 Differences To Know

If you are looking to take care of your mental health, chances are you are wondering which type of specialist you should see. Here we break down the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

By Ameya Arora
10 Apr 2022

Things often get rough and tough for us. There are days when normal everyday tasks become difficult to cope with; or certain relationships might take a toll on our mental health, giving rise to feelings of maladjustment, irritability, loneliness and even general disinterest in life. All of us have different types of problems, but one thing which is common is that mental health problems are one of the most pressing health concerns faced by people today. Studies show that conditions like depression and anxiety are becoming more common every year. With such mental ailments becoming common, people going to therapy are also becoming common. Each year the percentage of people seeking therapy is increasing, especially after the pandemic.


Related Story: 11 Questions You Must Ask Your New Therapist


Whenever we experience something upsetting or whenever our mood is low, we like to share our feelings with our near and dear ones. However, sharing our feelings may not be that easy when our loved ones are actually the cause of our worries. Or if that is not in a state to help ease your burden. Sometimes the best help is professional help, especially when things become unmanageable.


Chances are that you have come across many terms for mental health professionals such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor, coach, or psychotherapist, and so on. So which one is right for you? Especially if someone is seeking therapeutic help for the first time, they might be confused about whether they should talk to a psychiatrist first or a psychologist.


Both are prominent workers in the field of mental health and behaviour, but are definitely not the same. So, if you are looking to build a career in this discipline, or decide to seek mental health support, or just wish to learn more about the world around you, you have got to know these 5 key differences between psychologists and psychiatrists.


Related Story: How to Find the Best Therapist For You


1. Psychiatrists have a bachelor degree in medicine while psychologists have a postgraduate degree in psychology

First and foremost is the difference in the education of a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Psychiatrists begin their journey by taking the Science stream in 12th grade, with biology as one of the main subjects. Afterwards, they must earn an MBBS degree, and once their doctorate is completed, they are required to enroll in a psychiatry program. For that, they either enroll in a Psychiatry MD programme or a Diploma in Psychiatric Medicines program.


To build a career as psychologists, students take up any stream in their grade 12. Then they pursue their undergraduate degree in psychology (in most cases) followed by a master's degree in Psychology specialising in disciplines like clinical or counselling psychology. Clinical psychologists are further licensed professionals unlike counsellors, as they pursue their M.Phil in Clinical Psychology.


2. Psychiatrists treat mental health issues through medications while psychologists treat them through therapies

One of the most significant differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is in the approach they take toward mental health. A psychiatrist bases their treatment approach on medications. Once the diagnosis is made, they build a treatment plan for the patient, focusing on managing and reducing the unwanted symptoms through the use of medications. While they may also be trained in using psychotherapies like CBT, their central premise is to work with patients who need medications.


Psychologists primarily utilise different types of therapies to manage the symptoms a person might be facing and help them cope with their life problems. Various therapies used by them include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Gestalt Therapy, Behaviour Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) and so on. They also make use of psychometric tests which help in the evaluation of a person’s personality characteristics etc. to determine the right course of action.


Related Story: Ways To Tame Stress and Make It Empower You


3. Psychiatrists deal primarily with mental disorders while psychologists deal with developmental, behavioural, and adjustment problems along with mental disorders

Psychiatrists mostly tend to treat people who need help with complex medical and psychological conditions such as severe depression or anxiety, psychotic behaviour including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism etc. For example, if you’re dealing with anxiety, a psychiatrist will look at your behaviour pattern, along with looking at the biology and neurochemistry behind it. As they are medical doctors, their primary treatment methods include brain stimulation therapies, medication, psychological treatment etc. they also follow up with general medical care including physical examinations to see if there’s any effect of the prescribed medications. They may also perform other physical examinations before providing a diagnosis, for instance, a psychiatrist might check for thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies before diagnosing one with depression.


On the other hand, psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions such as behavioural problems, adjustment issues, learning disabilities, mild depression and anxiety etc. For example, if you’re dealing with anxiety, a psychologist will track your sleeping pattern, the frequency and severity of panic attacks, the negative thoughts that might be contributing to your high levels of anxiety and more. Based on what they find. They’ll talk with you, teach you how to change those patterns, and help you develop new habits to relieve and manage anxiety. They primarily help you with the use of psychological treatments and different types of talk therapy.


Related Story: Does Your Child Have Separation Anxiety?


4. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine while psychology is the study of human behaviour

Psychiatrists are basically doctors and thus their specialisation is dealing with mental disorders so their work only concerns that. They can specialise further in the discipline including areas such as Forensic psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, Clinical Neurophysiology, Pain Management, Sleep Medicine, Brain Injury Medicine etc.


At the same time since psychology is the study of human behaviour and mind, it can be applied virtually to various fields, mental health being one of them. Psychologists can specialise in different areas like Clinical Psychology, Counselling Psychology, Child Psychology, Sports Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Industrial/Organisational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Educational Psychology or more.


Related Story: How Taking a Couple’s Vacation can Improve Your Mental Health and Strengthen Your Relationship


5. Psychiatry is medical in nature whereas psychology is both science and social in nature

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with diagnosis, management, and prevention of mental, emotional or behavioural disorders. Psychiatrists are doctors who look at the biology and neurochemistry of human beings to determine how they influence our behaviour and emotions.


On the other hand, psychology is a multifaceted discipline that studies how human beings think, behave, and interact with one another. To determine this they make use of experiments, case studies, observations etc. to investigate why we behave the way we do.


So, whom should you see?

If you believe that you’re dealing with complex issues like severe mood swings, neurosis, dissociation, you can consider approaching a psychiatrist. However if you're experiencing certain life challenges and wish to work on better understanding of your thoughts and behaviours, you might benefit from a psychologist.


There are certain conditions like depression and anxiety which can be treated with a combination of talk therapy and medication, allowing you to visit both a psychologist and psychiatrist. In such cases, you may have regular therapy sessions with a psychologist, while a psychiatrist manages your medical treatment.


For instance, if a person is suffering with depression and is at a risk of suicide, a psychiatrist may first prescribe anti-depressant medications, which would help in managing suicidal tendencies. After stabilisation, a psychologist would start taking therapy sessions which might help in getting to the root cause of difficulty, and help the person manage their negative thoughts and emotions.


Thus, psychologists and psychiatrists work hand in hand in many mental healthcare settings to help patients.


Related Story: 5 Stages Of Burnout—An Expert’s Guide To Cope





© Copyright Lifetime Wellness Rx International Limited. All rights reserved throughout India. Reproduction in part or in whole is prohibited. Wellness suggestions and treatments discussed in this issue are only indicators of what makes one healthy or not. It may not be an accurate assessment of what’s specifically ideal for you. Consult with your doctor before undertaking any treatment.