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Two sides of the same coin: Psychologists and Psychiatrists

That aged-old question: What is the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists? It’s easy to confuse the two. In fact, many aspiring mental health professionals aren’t sure until they start their schooling. What we’re trying to say is that this is a common question and an important one to answer before you begin the search for the right clinician for you.

The process for finding the right therapist can be overwhelming. We’re not here to discuss everything right now, but let us at the very least explain the similarities and differences between two top tier types of mental health professionals. Both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to help people’s mental wellbeing and to treat mental illness. Both can provide therapy and both have years of experience working with a wide range of patient populations. There are other similarities – like people’s fascination with them at dinner parties – but let us move on to some of the important differences.

What is a psychiatrist? A psychiatrist is mental health professional who attended medical school (4 years) and then completed a residency in psychiatry (4 years, plus 1-2 years for a specialized fellowship, e.g., child and adolescent psychiatry). Psychiatrists often approach their work from a medical model with a focus on diagnosis and treatment. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication and use psychopharmacology to aid the treatment of their patients. In addition, psychiatrists are trained to see patients for psychotherapy, including dynamic and more behavioral types of treatment.

What is a psychologist? Psychologists go a different route in their training. They attend a doctoral program (5-7 years) to obtain either a PhD or PsyD. Both PhD and PsyD programs provide very similar types of training, and both graduate as psychologists, however, PhD programs are typically richer in research experience, whereas PsyD programs focus more on clinical training. In general, psychologists specialize in assessing and treating mental health disorders through non-pharmaceutical interventions and evidenced-based therapies. They are also trained in psychological testing unlike their psychiatry counterparts.

There they are. Some of the biggest differences between psychiatrists and psychologists. We are always open to lengthy conversations on what we do here, so please reach out if have any questions or want to dive deeper into the distinctions between the two.

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