mental health

Professional medical help is essential to address and alleviate mental health issues. But, the question is whether you should see a psychiatrist or psychologist. When it comes to mental health issues, many people are confused because they do not know how a psychiatrist is different from a psychologist. This article is therefore intended to clear the confusion and help you understand the specific roles played by a psychiatrist and psychologist.

What is common between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

The psychiatrist and psychologist are doctors with the necessary training to address your mental health problems. Both of them can work with you through your problems and aim to guide you managing issues in your daily life.

How do they differ?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has graduated from a medical school, has gone through at least one year of medical internship and brings 3 years of residency experience in assessing and treating mental health issues.

Psychologists, on the other hand, have a doctoral degree in specific area of psychology involving the study of human mind and behaviour. Psychologists are not medical doctors. A psychologist generally has a PhD in philosophy/PsyD in counselling or clinical psychology. Typically, they also go through one or two years of internship. But unlike psychiatrists, psychologists receive training in imparting psychological tests such as personality tests or IQ tests.
Psychiatrists can prescribe medication because of the medical education and training they have and that is the most common distinction between the two professions. However, some states may allow a psychologist to prescribe medication with certain limitations if the individual also had undergone a psychopharmacology course.

The Approach

Rob, director at Melbourne’s top mental health organisation, The Three Seas Psychology says “Generally speaking, psychologists and psychiatrists are trained in the practice of psychotherapy- talking to their patients regarding their problems. However, the different backgrounds they have with regard to training leads to different approaches to solving mental health issues.”

A psychologist closely examines the patient’s behaviour. For instance, if you are suffering from depression and has a problem getting out of your bed, then it is a behavioural activation as seen by the psychologist. Psychologists will also track your sleep patterns, negative thoughts and eating patterns that could cause or contribute to the problem.

Psychiatrists understand biology as well as neurochemistry better. Therefore, they tend to adopt a method of diagnoses by exclusion. For example, before calling someone as depressed, they ensure that a vitamin deficiency or thyroid problem is not the underlying cause of the problem. Once the diagnosis is done, psychiatrists can prescribe appropriate medicine to alleviate your problem.

Who should you see?

Generally, your health insurance covers both psychologists and psychiatrists and with regard to patients making out of pocket payment, often times a sliding scale is employed.

A potential advantage of consulting a psychiatrist is that being a medical doctor, she/he also has the training and knowledge to explore the underlying medical issues or drug-related issues that could trigger behavioural or emotional symptoms. When needed psychiatrists can more readily work with your GP or other primary care provider or even specialists. As a medical professional, psychiatrists are trained in multiple settings like outpatient, paediatrics, and emergency room and thus are comfortable with the language in any part of the hospital.

In serious types of mental health issues like bipolar disorder, major depression, or schizophrenia with severe physical symptoms, basic care is challenging for the affected individual and a psychiatrist generally has the formal training and knowledge about the line of treatment to be adopted.

In instances where the problem is less severe, your personal preferences come into focus on the choice between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Many people may have reservations about medication and may be afraid that they would get addicted to medicine or that it could impact their body chemistry. Under these conditions, it is more likely that the individual would opt to see a psychologist before exploring other options. In other words, the type of problem would be the guiding force to choose the professional who can help alleviate the problem. Amplifying this, someone with a phobia could benefit from therapy administered by a psychologist while a psychiatrist could be a better choice to address issues related to clinical depression.

Usually, when a psychologist is treating an individual, who in his opinion has severe symptoms like suicidal tendency or irrational thoughts, he may suggest a consultation with a psychiatrist for clarity in the diagnosis and possible prescription for medicines.
Importance of timely help.

In all instances of mental health issues or even suspected mental health problem, it is essential that you get help at the earliest possible opportunity. If for any reason, you continue to be confused on whether you should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, the best person to guide you is your GP

Taking your GP into confidence

Generally, the GP is a person well versed in you and your health. Therefore, by taking your GP into confidence you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. The focus should be to avoid procrastination since some problems can potentially aggravate over time, making it, even more, overwhelming for you.

Talk to someone you love for support and guidance

Still not sure which way to go? Speak to your family elders, your partner, or someone with whom you can confidently share your problem. This way, you would have taken a load off your mind, and your confidante will come up with a solution sooner, than later.

Remember that strong relationships built on confidentiality and trust form the foundation of both psychiatry and psychology. Once you have made up your mind on the type of doctor you should see, it is likely that you would be seeing more than one doctor before making up your mind on who fits your needs best.

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