To the man on the street, there is not much difference between a psychologist vs psychiatrist, but although both professions appear to be identical, there are differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist, and for anyone with an involvement or interest in mental health, it is useful to appreciate what these differences are.
Like lawyers and solicitors, to all intents and purposes, a psychologist and psychiatrist appear to do the same job, in the same field of expertise. Both psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to deal with a wide range of mental health problems, from depression to schizophrenia, and both can treat mental health conditions using psychotherapy. Both professions are also able to conduct research when necessary.
The difference between a psychologist vs psychiatrist
However, the clue to the difference between the two professions is actually in the name. Psychiatry ends in the suffix –iatry, which means medical treatment, so psychiatry is the medical treatment of the psyche. Psychology ends in the suffix –logy, which means theory or science, so psychology is essentially the study of the science of the psyche. So be warned, if you intend on studying psychology, it is less about Freud’s theories on sexuality and more about science and complicated experiments.
How to become a psychiatrist?
Becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist will require a great deal of training and commitment from any student, but in order to become qualified in either, you should be aware that each career path requires a different set of qualifications.
Because psychiatry is grounded in medicine, in order to train as a psychiatrist you will need to study for a degree in medicine. Once you have a degree qualification in general medicine, you will then be required to complete postgraduate training in mental health before choosing to specialize in a specific area of psychiatry, for example geriatric or child psychiatry.
How to become a Psychologist?
To study for a career as a psychologist, you will have to study for a degree in psychology. This can be continued with a postgraduate qualification in counselling or clinical psychology if you wish to practice as a clinical psychologist. Alternatively, rather than complete a postgraduate qualification, you might decide to enter industry or education and work in a non-clinical field of psychology instead.
When do I see a Psychologist and when do I see a Psychiatrist?
If you or a loved one is ever unfortunate enough to suffer from a mental health problem, you are likely to meet a psychologist or psychiatrist as part of your assessment and subsequent treatment. Both professions will be able to help you and advise you on your illness, but only one is able to prescribe medication as part of a treatment plan.
By law, only a psychiatrist is allowed to write prescriptions for medication, so for example, if the treatment plan for your illness calls for a prescription for Prozac, the only person who can write one is your psychiatrist. However, there are changes afoot to relax things enough so that psychologists are able to write prescriptions for medications under the supervision of a psychiatrist.