Psychology vs Psychiatry
Updated: Feb 6
We know how confusing the mental health field can be.
I myself, and already during my studies in Psychology, still had many doubts regarding the fields of action of Psychology and Psychiatry.
What does a psychologist do that a psychiatrist doesn't do? And vice-versa? If a psychologist doesn't do psychotherapy, what is a psychiatrist for? When should I seek one or the other? Do they complement each other or do they do the same thing? How? Why?
Let's get these questions straight. Because, although there are similarities, there are also fundamental differences which will help you understand when you should look for one professional or the other.
Both are pillars in the field of mental health.
Both psychologists and psychiatrists are academically trained to carry out diagnostic and psychotherapeutic processes, that is, to apply psychological treatments in order to deal with problems or disorders of the mind. However, there are a number of differences explained below which help us to understand where they differ.
A psychiatrist has trained in Medicine, with a specialization in Psychiatry.
Psychiatric intervention is generally necessary when symptoms of psychological distress severely impair the patient's life.
Pharmacological therapy, which only psychiatrists have the power to prescribe, unlike psychologists, is a way for patients to control and even resume normal activities. It is also a form of treatment that needs close monitoring.
Psychiatrists have a deep knowledge of biology, neurology and brain chemistry.
A psychologist is trained in Psychology and then specializes in one of the three main areas of Psychology (Education, Clinical or Organizational). The confusion that is created with Psychiatry usually arises with Clinical Psychology, due to the fact that the intervention is more similar. Even within Clinical Psychology, it is common for a psychologist to specialize in one or more forms of intervention (for example, Psychoanalysis, Dynamic Psychotherapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy, etc.), which will dictate the theoretical influence that governs the intervention of each professional.
Thus, a psychologist must go through a process of specific and deep training that is focused on the psychotherapeutic process.
The psychologist's academic background focuses mainly on how the person interacts with the environment and how it affects the person and vice-versa. Therefore, he/she will do so by identifying what factors contributed to the development of disorders and what factors contribute to maintaining suffering. Thus, through active listening, a psychologist will seek to understand human behavior, based on the person's problems and complaints. Above all, he/she will listen with an empathic and non-judgmental attitude. From each case, unique and singular, a specific intervention plan is then developed. Thus, it will seek to understand the causes of suffering and share strategies to deal with it.
For example, if a patient presents symptoms of depression, a psychiatrist would first conduct tests to understand what variables in the individual's body are contributing to or implicated in the disorder. He or she would investigate and rule out physical factors at the source of the disturbance and, if necessary, prescribe medication to alleviate more debilitating symptoms (such as lack of energy), which would enable the client's behavioral activation. It is important to emphasize that medication does not allow one to change the information that comes from one's life history or to learn new coping strategies. Thus, in many cases, pharmacological therapy may not be sufficient. The psychologist's intervention allows the person to get to know himself, to recreate himself, to change the way he thinks, feels, and reacts. On the other hand, the psychologist can help the person to understand the reasons that led to the development of the depression, and tries to find ways to deal with the suffering and strategies to avoid relapses in the future.
In conclusion, Psychology and Psychiatry support each other, working together in the progress of the human being. Both work with trust and confidentiality and towards the well-being of each person.
It is, indeed, a very important requirement for any kind of professional in either area to know when a case is outside his or her competence; when to intervene or not; and to always ask if there is another professional who can provide the best possible treatment for the person in question.
The client's well-being is the highest value and should guide the actions of these health professionals.
If you have any doubts or questions about the type of help you may need, you can contact your doctor, who will direct you to the most appropriate service. We are also available to help.