For many people, the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist are not immediately clear. Many think that they are one and the same, but this is not the case. This confusion or misunderstanding of what the two professions do, can make it difficult for those seeking help with their mental health to know whether a psychiatrist or a psychologist is best suited to help them.
A fundamental difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is the volume and degree of training. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has qualified in psychiatry as a speciality and focuses on how the brain works in a clinical sense. As well as being qualified to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, a psychiatrist is able to prescribe medication, where required. A psychologist is not normally medically qualified and therefore is not able to prescribe medication.
In essence, both professions are well qualified to help someone struggling with their mental health, so how do you choose?
When assessing your mental health, a psychiatrist will take into account your medical history and will suggest the most appropriate treatment, whether that is therapy, medicine or a combination of both. Psychologists will focus instead on how the mind works, your behaviours and the motivations, thinking and feelings behind those behaviours.
By visiting a psychiatrist in the first instance, you will gain a more developed understanding of the biological causes of your disorder. Alternatively, visiting a psychologist first to understand the depth of your disorder may be beneficial, but you may then be referred to a psychiatrist for further medical understanding.
Both clinicians treat a wide range of conditions including depression, anxiety, addictions, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, PTSD, stress disorders, phobias, OCD, schizophrenia and psychosis. Your decision of which professional to see may depend on the disorder you believe you may have and its severity. Some disorders require medication as a part of ongoing management and treatment, for example, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, so it would be more appropriate to consult a psychiatrist. Other disorders, for example anxiety, can be treated by talking therapies alone without the need for drug treatment, depending on the severity of the symptoms, and in this case a psychologist may be preferable.
A clear contrast between the two professions is the price of treatment which reflects the differences in the level of qualifications. A typical consultation with a psychiatrist ranges between £300 and £350 for an hour. On the other hand, a psychologist consultation is usually substantially cheaper at £100 – £150. For this reason, many people funding their own treatment do choose to go directly to a psychologist, but may later find themselves being referred to a psychiatrist depending on the nature and severity of the illness. A psychiatrist usually refers onto a psychologist for therapeutic treatment, reducing ongoing costs, but can simultaneously commence medication to facilitate a faster recovery. For these reasons, it can often be more cost effective and speed up the process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery to visit a psychiatrist to begin with.
One thing which all mental healthcare professionals have in common is that ultimately they all seek to ensure that their patients receive the right treatment. If beneficial to the patient, they will always make cross-referrals to the most appropriate clinician. If in real doubt of where to go, a good place to start is with your GP who can based on their experience, review the severity of your symptoms and suggest the right starting point for a full diagnosis and recovery.
Appointments with consultant psychiatrists Dr Adrian Winbow and Prof Tony Hale at clinic locations in London, Kent and Surrey can be made by contacting our office in Kent on 01732 836320.