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Psychiatrists and Psychologists: 4 Key Differences

Navigating yourself through the world of mental health providers can be quite confusing at times. One common source of confusion for many is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Yes, both are mental health providers and both have similar names, but they also have a few key differences that set them apart from one another.

Some people opt to work with both a psychiatrist and a psychologist, while others may work with or the other. However, this varies on a case by case basis depending on the patient. In order to start a treatment plan with a psychiatrist and/or a psychologist, it is first essential to understand what sets them apart. Here are four key differences between psychiatrists and psychologists.

Training

Although both psychiatrists and psychologists are considered doctors, they are different kinds of doctors. A psychiatrist must complete medical school, a medical year-long internship, and a three-year long residency centered around mental health disorders. With this training, psychiatrists earn a MD degree and are considered medical doctors. Psychologists, on the other hand, have a doctoral degree in psychology, but are not medical doctors. As a result, the majority of their training revolves around studying the mind and human behavior, as well as counseling techniques.

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Method of Treatment

Another main difference between psychiatrists and psychologists are the way they provide treatment to their patients. Psychiatrists are primarily known for prescribing medications to help their patients deal with symptoms. They may also evaluate the physical cause of symptoms, such as a vitamin deficiency or problems with the thyroid gland. Psychologists, on the other hand, use behavioral intervention to help patients deal with their symptoms. One common technique practiced by psychologists is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Frequency of Appointments

Since most psychiatrists are focused on medical management, their approach requires fewer appointments. An initial psychiatric consultation can last 30-60 minutes, while most follow up appointments are shorter. These follow up appointments are usually every month or every few months depending on how the medication is working. With a psychologist, however, there are more frequent appointments. This is because behavioral changes need constant attention before they become habits. Psychologists may see their patients every week, every month, or as needed.

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Conditions Treated

While there is not an exact division of mental disorders that psychiatrists and psychologists treat, there are a few trends. In general, psychiatrists treat patients with complex mental health conditions that do not respond to psychotherapy alone. These can include, but are not limited to, severe depression, severe anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Psychologists generally deal with people whose mental health can be effectively managed with psychotherapy. These can include, but are not limited to, learning disorders, behavioral problems, and mild depression or anxiety. However, some patients find it highly effective to seek treatment from both. If you are unsure if your depression is severe or mild, see “5 Signs You Should See a Psychiatrist for Depression”. Ultimately, psychiatrists and psychologists both have the training to help manage a variety of mental health conditions.

Now that you understand the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists in terms of their training, treatment approach, frequency of appointments, and conditions treated, you can decide which one would work best for you. Keep in mind, however, that you may benefit from a treatment plan that implements both psychiatry and psychology.

Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability.  For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.

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