Mental health issues are usually treated by professionals who are either psychiatrists or psychologists, but many people aren’t sure what the difference is between these two types of mental health professional. The simplest answer is that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor and a psychologist is not, but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It also doesn’t explain more subtle differences between the two in terms of how they approach the treatment of their patients.
Both psychiatrists and psychologists routinely treat individuals with mental health problems ranging from mild anxiety to major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Both also have extensive, in depth educations. A psychiatrist completes medical school before serving a four year residency program that focuses on mental health. A psychologist doesn’t have a medical degree, but he or she will have at least five years of graduate study in the field of psychology before serving an internship with a fully licensed, practicing psychologist.
Beyond eduation, the main difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medications and, in most cases, a psychologist can’t because he or she doesn’t have a medical degree. In New Mexico and Louisiana, however, a psychologist can prescribe certain medications after consulting with a psychiatrist.
How Does Treatment Differ Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists?
Psychiatrists frequently prescribe medications and often focus more on medication management as a way to manage mental illness. Psychiatrists usually treat the more serious forms of mental illness that have biological causes or that are the result of brain injury or chemical imbalance because they can prescribe the medications needed to counteract those problems. Psychologists often counsel people for anxiety, stress, addictions and other mental health issues that respond well to counseling. In recent years, psychiatrists and psychologists have begun working together, often using a combination of medication and psychotherapy to treat patients with excellent results.