What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

the Clinical Psychology and the psychiatry are two applied disciplines in the field of mental health that are often confused. There may be similarities in the type of issues they deal with and how they work, but there are some obvious differences between the two.

If you want to avoid such confusion, this article may be helpful to you when consulting the differences between psychologist and psychiatrist and distinguish between the two types of professional profiles.

  • If in doubt about the role of mental health professionals, see this article: “The difference between psychologist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist”

Main differences between psychologist and psychiatrist

Psychiatry and psychotherapy are complex concepts in which it is possible to find many distinctive nuances, but in short, these are the most important differences between the two.

1. The academic path of each discipline

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have very different backgrounds. The former come from undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, then specialize in Clinical Psychology, While psychiatrists go through a medical degree and then specialize in branch of psychiatry.

Therefore, the skills and knowledge of the two 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 generally different

Due to the previous point, another of the differences between the psychologist and the psychiatrist lies in the approach used. The psychiatrist has one biomedical approach of human behavior and its affective states, and therefore focuses on physiological, anatomical and chemical aspects of the human body (especially those related to the nervous system and hormones).

For his part, the psychologist can adopt more heterogeneous postures that they place more emphasis on social context, personal relationships and culture; if he can also adopt an approach that takes the patient’s body as an isolated object very seriously, depending on the type of psychological current to which it is attached, the biological will never be the main one to focus on.

This is because in psychology the interaction between the subject and the environment and the interaction between the subject and others are rather studied, while psychiatry takes a slightly more reductionist (and no less successful) perspective. in variables that only affect the person you want to help: how your brain works, a possible disease that affects certain glands in your endocrine system, etc.

3. The type of problems they deal with

Psychiatrists tend to treat psychiatric disorders, Forms of discomfort that can be considered as diagnosable pathologies, while the phenomena treated by psychologists are more varied and include those accessible in psychiatry.

For example, a case of major depression is a problem in which a psychologist and a psychiatrist can intervene; however, the discomfort associated with low self-esteem, partner crises or a feeling of demotivation at work can be solved by psychotherapy, but hardly by psychiatry. Indeed, psychological intervention is not limited to the field of mental health, but can be adapted to all models of behavior capable of providing greater general well-being.

4. The method of intervention

Another of the differences between the psychologist and the psychiatrist is in the way they approach the patient’s problems. A psychiatrist almost always uses it more or less invasive methodsAs it focuses on changing the functioning of specific parts of the body. This is why, in many resources used in psychiatry, there is a high probability of injury, although part of the job of these medical specialists is to monitor cases to minimize risk and to quickly change treatment if of need.

Moreover, since the psychiatrist is a doctor, is legally entitled to prescribe medicationThis is not the case with psychologists, who are responsible for providing psychological advice and proposing techniques based on habits, thought patterns and the processing of emotions, and behavior in general. Thus, in psychotherapy, we do not seek to modify the dynamics of specific parts of the body, but the desired change is the whole that forms the person and his usual life context.

  • Find out more: “Types of psychotherapy”

In summary …

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

Talking about the differences between the psychologist and the psychiatrist also means recognizing their own training and work paths as relatively independent trajectories, but what is clear is that both approaches are useful when it comes to mental health intervention.

Bibliographical references:

  • Feixas, G. and Miró, MT (1998). Approaches to psychotherapy. An introduction to psychological treatments. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • Lieberman, JA, Ogas, O. (2015): Shrinks: The Untold History of Psychiatry. New York: Back Bay Books.
  • Marconi, J. (2001). Psychiatry at the turn of the century: social psychiatry. Chilean Journal of Neuro-Psychiatry, 39 (1), 10-11.
  • Sadock, BJ, Ahmad, S. and Sadock, VA (2018): Kaplan and Sadock Clinical Psychiatry Pocket Handbook. Riverwoods, Illinois: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Leave a Comment