Differences Between the Two Careers

When it comes to seeking help for a mental illness or any mental problem, two names come to mind: psychologists and psychiatrists. But who do you turn to? Psychologists and psychiatrists have both been trained in the same practice of psychiatric treatment. Only the treatments they offer vary depending on the type of mental condition.

Psychologists and psychiatrists, although they sound similar, have different roles in treating mental illness, their job roles and skills. The two professionals understand and study the mind, including emotions, thoughts and feelings, but their role in helping people is very different.

So if you are someone looking to build a career in this arena, or just someone curious to learn more about the world around you, you need to know who they are and how they are both different.

Psychologists and psychiatrists – who are they?

To be precise, psychology is the scientific study of the brain and human behavior. People who practice psychology are known as psychologists and research how people think, behave and feel in different social settings. They are experts in human behavior.

On the other hand, psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with the treatment of mental illness, emotional disorders and abnormal behavior. Psychiatrists examine biological, neurological and biochemical malformations to diagnose mental illness and prescribe medications to treat them.

The fields of psychology and psychiatry are both essential in research and development of treatments to improve people’s mental and emotional well-being. They both share a common goal: to help people lead a functional and healthy life.

Differences between psychiatrists and psychologists


The main differences between the two lie in many different areas, including their approaches, areas of work and educational pathways. Contrary to what most people believe, they are not the same thing. Psychiatrists, as I mentioned, are doctors. Psychologists, while treating mental disorders, are not limited to this.
Here’s how they are different:

1. Psychiatrists deal mainly with mental disorders. For psychologists, this is just one industry

Psychiatrists are medical doctors and therefore they work mainly in health settings such as hospitals, mental health clinics or private practice. In the field of medicine, their specialty is mental health and their work only touches on that. Psychiatrists can further specialize in mental health, including areas such as forensic psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, addictive psychiatry, clinical neurophysiology, pain treatment, sleep medicine, brain injury medicine, etc.

On the other hand, since psychology is the study of the mind and human behavior, it can be applied in almost all areas, with mental health being one. The word “psychologist” is an umbrella term for many different sub-fields of psychology such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, child psychology, sports psychology, cognitive psychology, industrial / organizational psychology, forensic psychology and other educational psychology. Psychology graduates can choose to specialize in any of them, depending on their interests. Therefore, psychologists do not always work with mental disorders.

2. Psychiatrists deal with complex psychological conditions; Psychologists are more concerned with behavioral and developmental problems

Psychiatrists tend to treat people who need help with complex medical and psychological conditions such as severe depression, psychotic behavior, severe anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, etc.

Psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions that can be effectively treated / managed through psychological therapies, such as behavioral problems, adjustment problems, learning difficulties, mild depression and anxiety.

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3. Psychiatrists treat mental health problems through medication; Psychologists treat them with treatments

The biggest difference between the two is in the approach they take to treating mental disorders.
A psychiatrist takes the first drug approach in treatment. Once the diagnosis is made, they construct a therapeutic course plan for the patient, focusing on managing symptoms through the use of medication and psychotherapy. While they may also be trained in psychotherapies such as psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy and more, as part of typical psychotherapy, the work of therapies is usually handled by psychologists.

Psychologists mainly use different types of treatments to manage symptoms and help their patients deal with their life problems. They may use various forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, rational emotional behavioral therapy (REBT), gestalt therapy, humanistic therapy, and so on. They are also qualified to perform psychometric tests, which assess a person’s mental state and personal characteristics to determine the correct course of action for the patient.

For example, if a person has been suffering from depression and a recent suicide attempt, a psychiatrist will first prescribe antidepressants to the person to manage the suicidal tendencies and make the person more open to talk and treatment. Once stabilized, the psychologist would begin treatment to get to the root of the person’s difficulties and help him manage his negative thoughts and feelings.

Thus, psychologists and psychiatrists work together in many mental health settings to help patients.

4. Psychiatry requires a degree in medicine. Psychology requires a UG & PG degree in Psychology

A psychiatrist is a physician with a medical degree in psychiatry. To become a psychiatrist you will first need to complete your MBBS, followed by an MD in psychiatry. Thus, a total of 7.5 years of study (5.5 years of MBBS + 2 years of MD) are required.

To build a career as a psychologist, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology followed by a master’s degree in psychology. To practice as a clinical psychologist (treating mental disorders), it takes another two years of study to get an M.Phil. In Clinical Psychology. A total of 5 to 7 years of study are required (3 years BA + 2 years MA + 2 years if going to the M.Phil degree).


5. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, psychologists can not

Psychiatrists are medical doctors and are legally equipped to prescribe medication to patients. Many disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) etc. respond well to medications and are mainly treated with them, although treatment can help.

Psychologists, however, can not prescribe such drugs. They conduct psychological tests to diagnose patients and treat them through treatment. In severe cases where drug treatment may prove effective, psychologists refer such cases to psychiatrists.


Both of these professionals can help people with mental health issues, and patients may first see a psychologist before referring to a psychiatrist. Similarly, you may be discharged from a psychiatrist if your condition improves and then be treated by a psychologist.

They often work together to provide the best treatments for each patient, and both have extensive knowledge in psychology. Regardless of their education and training, both are there to support patients in managing their mental health and living a normal life despite their condition.


Psychologists offer psychological treatments for people with common mental problems such as anxiety, with about 6 years of training. Psychiatrists typically have about 11 years of training and medical experience, meaning they treat those with more complex mental health issues, provide medication and additional treatments.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are equally capable in their field of working with mental illness. Neither is better than the other, they are experts in their areas of expertise and effective results are seen when both work together to improve the mental well-being of the individual.


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