Difference between Psychologist and Psychiatrist

Key difference: Both psychologists and psychiatrists conduct psychotherapy and research, but a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, whereas a psychologist has a Ph.D. A psychiatrist is allowed to prescribe medicine, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests, and order brain imaging studies. A psychologist is not.

Most use the terms ‘psychologist’ and ‘psychiatrist’ interchangeably. This is understandable as they are both qualified individuals who provide therapy services. However, there is a significant difference between them.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists conduct psychotherapy and research, but a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, whereas a psychologist has a Ph.D. This educational background is the basic difference between the two.

A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry. Psychiatry is the medical specialty that deals with the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, of mental disorders. These disorders include various affective, behavioral, cognitive and perceptual abnormalities. As a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, they are allowed to prescribe medicine, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests, and order brain imaging studies, such as CT scan or a CAT scan, an MRI or PET scanning.

A psychologist, on the other hand, is a professional or academic title. It can be used by clinical, counseling, and school psychologists; organizational psychologists; or academics. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are those that work with patients in a variety of therapies. Organizational psychologists are those that apply psychological research, theories and techniques to "real-world" problems. Academics conduct psychological research or teach psychology in a college or university. The American Psychological Association (APA) is divided into 56 different divisions, each reflecting different types of psychologists.

A common misconception is that psychiatrists only treat people with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, while psychologists treat psychotherapy and patients with less severe problems. However, this is not the case. Both psychiatrists and psychologists treat all kinds of disorders and mental illnesses. Furthermore, counseling and psychotherapy are common activities for psychologists but are just one of the branches of psychology, as stated previously. Psychologists often conduct research, and teach psychology.

Still in most places, psychologists cannot prescribe medications to patients as they are not considered as a medical doctor. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, can prescribe medications as they are medical doctors specializing in psychiatry. However, as a psychologists study the same number of years as a psychiatrist, and have the same insight into and treat the same disorders, many claim that they should be allowed to prescribe medications. Hence, in many places this rule is being challenged or has already been over thrown in favor of the psychologists.

Image Courtesy: angieslist.com, aiu.edu

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