Outside of the mental health world, psychologists and psychiatrists may be seen as the same thing – professionals to reach out to when we are going through mental health challenges. However, there is one very fundamental difference between these two occupations:
Psychologists are trained in analysing and understanding human behaviour. They look for dysfunctional patterns in thoughts, emotions and behaviour and address these in psychotherapy from a perspective of behavioural change.
In contrast, psychiatrists are qualified medical doctors who have specialised in psychiatry. While they can also be trained in psychotherapy, their medical training tends to promote diagnosis, management and treatment of mental illness from a medical perspective. This means they can prescribe medication for mental health conditions, tackling these at a neurochemical and physiological level.
This key distinction nicely gives rise to some regular back-and-forth bickering between us as psychologists and our valued psychiatric colleagues – we claim psychiatrists are too fast to drug people, psychiatrists roll their eyes at the notion that ‘talking’ solving all problems. In reality, we do best working together in the best interest of our clients: Psychologists providing psychotherapy and psychiatrists providing medication.