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The Difference Between Psychiatry and Psychology

What’s the difference between psychiatry and psychology?

This question may be a major challenge if you’re experiencing a mental health problem.

Deciding which professional to see first is not something a person wants to deal with when all they can really think about is feeling depressed or anxious or unsure of what is happening to them.

Knowing the difference between professionals will help someone make clear decisions in chaotic times. In the middle of a panic attack when the room is spinning and the thoughts of a heart attack are rushing the mind, no one is thinking about whom to call for help. They just want immediate help from anyone who can give it.

But it is important not to go to the wrong professional so being prepared can help a person avoid this mistake.

While both mental health professionals are important to the >treatment process, it is necessary for a person seeking help to know the similarities and differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist and what to expect from both.

The Difference Between Psychiatry and Psychology and How to Chose A Professional

Before you meet with any professional, know the right questions to ask at your first meeting with either of the two professionals in order for you feel more confident and in control of your own care.

Make sure the doctors you choose to work with make you feel comfortable and teach you about your disorder, if you have one, and explain in detail how they plan to help you.

Think of it as an interview session and you are the one doing the interview. The doctor needs to meet your qualifications before you allow them to treat you.

Go to your first appointment, whether it is with a psychiatrist or a psychologist or both, with a list of questions to help you determine if they are right for you.

A good starter list of questions will include the following:

  • How much experience do you have? What is your specialty area?
  • What techniques do you use in treatment?
  • How do you measure if I am getting better?
  • How often will we meet?
  • Are you willing to work with other professionals in my life?
  • What can I do in crisis situations? Do you have an after- hours contact method?

Think of other questions you would like to ask that fit your needs specifically and don’t be afraid to ask them.

The majority of good doctors and counselors will welcome questions.

Psychiatry Explained

Psychiatry is defined as a specialty in the medical field.

It deals with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of behavioral disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, addictions and more. Psychiatrists are medical doctors with expertise in the mental health field.

They can prescribe medicines to patients. Many years ago psychiatrists provided counseling as well as medication to patients. However, they no longer offer counseling services.

Instead, they are mostly focused on making a diagnosis where needed and making sure the prescribed medicines are working and if not, figuring out a solution.

The American Psychiatric Association reports there are several different careers within the psychiatric field. Some of these include child and adolescent psychiatry in which they only work with those who are under the age of 18 and have many certifications and extra training with that population. Geriatric psychiatry allows the professional to work with those who are considered elderly. They can often find a career with nursing homes.

Forensic psychiatry involves working with legal professionals and collaborating with lawyers, police and investigators. Addiction psychiatry helps patients who are struggling with addiction. They can work in drug rehabilitation facilities or in private practice. Military psychiatrists prefer working with members in the military either currently enlisted or veterans. Psychiatrists can also be researchers and spend their careers gathering and sharing data they have collected through random studies of specific target areas.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists can earn between $150,000 in states such as Pennsylvania and Illinois and $250,000 in California. Salary is also based on the industry in which they work. Working for the government or a hospital is where a Psychiatrist can make the most money. To see a psychiatrist, you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 an hour.  The majority of insurance policies do pay for these appointments and for many medications prescribed.

Psychiatrists Help With Mental Health Disorders

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a good psychiatrist will know when it is appropriate to prescribe psychotropic medicines to patients and also when not to prescribe medicines. Not prescribing is just as important in someone’s treatment because not every person evaluated by a professional needs medicine.  Some may do well with just seeing a therapist or attending a support group.

Psychiatrists will use proven assessments and screenings such as this mental health screening offered by Mental Health America. The screenings will ask you many questions about your health, your living environment, your family history, eating habits, activity levels and motivation and more to determine whether or not you have a disorder.

Medicines used in Psychiatry work by altering the brain chemicals in order to produce the desired effect. Common types of medicines include:

  • Antipsychotics which get rid of hallucinations and delusions by altering the brain chemical dopamine or sometimes called the feel good chemical.
  • Antidepressants which alter the brain chemicals of serotonin and dopamine to increase happiness.
  • Anti-anxiety medicines such as benzodiazepines reverse the feelings of anxiety and panic. These can be highly addictive if not monitored closely by the doctor. It may be more effective to use medicines such as Effexor that are non-narcotic and taken on a daily preventive basis rather than a medicine that is only taken as needed after anxiety has begun.
  • Mood stabilizers such as lithium control mood swings in disorders like bipolar. This can control the mood swings that range from depression to mania. Depression and mania can be severe or mild but in either case, they can be very disruptive.
  • Ritalin is used with ADD and ADHD patients to help them improve concentration and lessen the constant movement that some deal with when not medicated. Most people prescribed Ritalin will also need a sedative in some form to bring them down from the high of the stimulant effects of the drug.

Psychology Explained

A Psychologist has also completed a great deal of education. They earn a doctoral degree in Psychology and have extensive experience conducting research and learning various methods of therapy. A psychologist will also administer testing and evaluations such as personality testing like the Myers-Briggs test. This test can tell you if you are an introvert or extrovert, judging or feeling types and more. Tests such as these can help the Psychologist form a treatment plan that matches your specific personality traits, allowing goals to be set that fit you specifically so you aren’t just given a broad and general plan for success.

Types of Psychologists can be a clinical psychologist who works in a mental health facility or in their own practice. Clinical psychologists usually have licensure in the state where they practice and have gone through extensive training. Clinical psychologists can help with the majority of mental health disorders due to their extensive mental health training.

School psychologist is a professional who is responsible for testing students within a school district. They can help determine if a child has learning disabilities or other special needs. They help teachers establish individualized education plans for students found to be in need of help. A research psychologist is one who performs studies and conducts research among random participants. The data they find can be helpful in many areas of mental health ranging from depression to obsessive-compulsive to eating disorders.

Other career paths for psychologists include child psychologist who typically will only work with children and adolescents suffering from a range of mental health disorders. Child psychologists are usually specialty trained in this area and have many more techniques to use with children than do general psychologists. A neuro-psychologist specializes in working with patients who have brain injuries or diseases. Sports psychologists work with athletes on the professional and lower levels. A spiritual psychologist is one who can introduce faith and spirituality into their work with clients.

Psychologists, similar to psychiatrists, can make the most money in a hospital or by working for the government.  There wage range is from a high of $90,000 to a low of $60,000 in private practice. To see a psychologist, you can expect to pay between $75 and $120 an hour on average. Most insurance policies do cover these expenses although some limit the number of sessions you can attend.

Psychologists Help With Mental Health Disorders

Psychologists often use a variety of techniques when counseling people with mental health disorders. Each person will participate in creating their own treatment plan with their psychologist. Some common therapies used may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy helps by teaching the patient new thoughts and behaviors to improve their overall health. This type of therapy is used frequently with people suffering from anxiety and depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on an educational model with both the client and therapist participating. It can even include homework for the client.
  • Group therapy involves at least two people who share similar mental health problems and offers another level of support from both peers and the psychologist. Support groups are common and varied and can range from grief, addiction, depression, eating disorders and more. There seems to be a group for just about any disorder. The best place to locate a group is through your local hospital. Group therapy can offer more feedback, improved social skills and often costs less than individual therapy.
  • Psychoanalytic therapy or talk therapy was invented by Sigmund Freud and basically allows the patient to talk about their issues and the psychologist listens, allowing the patient to figure out their own solution with just a small amount of guidance from the therapist. Psychoanalysis is based on the theory that the solution to our problems lies in our unconscious and by uncovering them can lead to healing.

Benefits of Using Both Psychiatry and Psychology

Working together is often a benefit of your care from a psychologist and psychiatrist.

Your visits with a psychiatrist will happen once every two or three months but with your psychologist you may meet on a weekly basis. It is very important that communication is open between your treatment providers so they can inform one another of any changes in your treatment plan and care.

Communication between the two can lead to great brainstorming and new ideas on how to make a person healthy.

The Association for Psychological Science claims psychology has made great contributions to the field of psychiatry.

One way is that it allows the medical doctor or psychiatrist to focus on the medical issues of the patient. By helping psychiatrists with the counseling portion of treatment, the psychiatrist can be more focused on whether or not the patient needs medication and if so, what type to prescribe for effective treatment.

Doctor on Demand suggests seeing a psychologist first can be beneficial in helping a person decide if they want to move forward with the possible use of medications.

A psychologist can conduct initial assessments and gather detailed information then relay to you their thoughts on whether or not medication could be beneficial. They can also share your information and their thoughts with the psychiatrist if you choose to see one. Two professionals working for your benefit can be better than one. Two perspectives into your health can increase your chances of success.

Knowledge is power.

The more you know, the better you can make a decision. Learn as much as you can about the similarities and differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist.

Learn what their backgrounds are supposed to be in education and practice. Learn the disorders they can treat and how they treat them. Ask them for references you can speak with who can verify their treatment methods have been successful. Remember that what the psychiatrist and psychologist offer you are suggestions, not requirements.

While they are very knowledgeable and capable of making a great recommendation, it is ultimately up to you to decide whether or not their recommendations are right for you.