Psychiatrist or Psychologist?

Which mental health professional should I see?

If you’ve never been to see a mental health professional before, it can be confusing to know what the differences are between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a psychotherapist and a counsellor, and therefore which is the most appropriate professional to consult. There are clear areas of cross-over, but each one offers a different level of expertise, treatment and can therefore influence the outcome of any treatment and the length of time required for recovery.

When debating whether to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or any other mental health professional, you should question the severity of your disorder and how urgently the treatment is required.

Private Psychiatry has a team of four psychiatrists all with many years’ experience. If felt appropriate as part of your treatment with us, you can be referred to one of a variety of psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors with whom we work.

Ultimately all mental health care professionals seek to ensure that you receive the right treatment and will make cross-referrals to the most appropriate clinician. 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 and professional for recovery. In the meantime, we clarify some of the differences between each mental health professional.

What is a psychiatrist?

In accordance to the Royal College of Psychiatrists the fundamental difference between a psychiatrist and other mental health professionals is the volume and degree of training required to understand the diagnostics behind medical treatments.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has qualified in psychiatry in order to find the most effective management of mental health conditions. Psychiatrists have completed many years training to reach their level of expertise in treating of mental health conditions.

A psychiatrist takes into account the complete medical history of the patient, as well as assessing the patient’s mental health. He or she will suggest the most appropriate treatment, whether that is therapy, medicine or a combination of both. By visiting a psychiatrist initially you may have a more developed understanding of the biological causes of your disorder which will influence the type of treatment recommended and may improve recovery time.

As psychiatrists are medically qualified, they are able to prescribe medication where appropriate – other mental health professionals are not qualified to do this. Your decision of who to see may depend on the disorder you believe you may have. Some disorders require medication as a part of ongoing management and treatment, for example, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. 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.

What is a psychologist?

Similar to a psychiatrist, a psychologist is an expert who focuses on the brain and how the mind works. Psychologists study behaviour and the motivations, thinking and feelings that direct those behaviours. They aim to reduce the psychological suffering of the individual using a variety of talking therapies. Psychologists, are not medical doctors and are therefore not able to prescribe medication as part of treatment.

What is a psychotherapist or counsellor?

A psychotherapist can come from any professional background - not necessarily a medical background. There are many different types of therapies a psychotherapist can be trained to use which will suit different people with different problems, such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), psychoanalytic therapy and hypnotherapy. Psychotherapy and counselling encourage the individual to clarify their problems and find their own solution to their problems. This can be done on a one-to-one basis or in a group setting in regular sessions. Psychotherapists are not able to prescribe medication and may therefore refer to a psychiatrist for more in-depth treatment.

What does it cost?

A clear difference between each professional is the price of treatment. A typical consultation with a psychiatrist ranges between £300 and £375 for an hour. Our fees at Private Psychiatry are well within the range of fees charged by psychiatrists. We also accept patients with private health insurance from most of the major providers, as well as self-funding patients.

A psychologist consultation is usually substantially cheaper at £120 - £150, a psychotherapist perhaps even cheaper. However, as there are clear differences in the level of expertise provided, the symptoms of some more serious conditions may not be immediately recognised and further sessions or a referral to a psychiatrist may be required, which may increase the costs overall and prolong the time needed for diagnosis and ultimately for recovery.

By visiting a psychiatrist initially you are more likely to receive a more developed understanding of the biological causes of your disorder. A psychiatrist will usually refer on to a psychologist, therapist or recommend a counsellor for therapeutic treatment if it is felt to be appropriate and beneficial to the patient, thus reducing ongoing costs. 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 if needed which may then also increase the overall cost of diagnosis and treatment.


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