The Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist: Help With Anxiety and Depression
You think you may be depressed. Over the past few weeks, you’ve been listless. You’re not eating much — and you are sleeping even less. You may not have the energy for the things you usually enjoy doing. You can’t be bothered to return the phone calls of concerned friends and family. These may be symptoms of depression.
You may also feel signs of nervousness, a sense of danger or panic, and you may struggle to think about anything other than your current worries. These may be symptoms of anxiety, and they may be holding you back and keeping you from social interaction.
Regardless if you think you may suffer from depression or anxiety, it may be time to consult a medical professional.
You might ask: “what kind of professional should I consult if I think I may have depression and/or anxiety? A psychologist or psychiatrist? And what is the difference?”
When determining what kind of healthcare provider might meet your mental health needs, it is important to understand what services and treatments each professional offers. Psychiatrists and psychologists are not the only healthcare providers that can help with anxiety disorders and depression — primary care providers, nurse practitioners and others may also be able to help.
According to the American Psychological Association, a clinical psychologist provides mental health care specializing in the study of behaviors and mental processes. Psychologists work with cognitive processes, emotional behavior, and help patients integrate skills to improve interaction in their personal social environments.
Psychologists can diagnose mental disorders, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities. They determine and conduct treatment through psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) to help those with depression or anxiety. During therapy sessions, psychologists work to get to the root of psychiatric conditions.
Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists do not obtain a medical degree to treat depression or an anxiety disorder. They typically earn an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree of doctor of philosophy in psychology [Ph.D.] or doctor of psychology [Psy.D.]. They cannot prescribe medication for people who seek treatment.
Many practicing psychologists complete two years of internship experience before earning their Ph.D. or Psy.D., depending on the states in which they practice.
Like psychologists, clinical psychiatrists study, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and others. In addition to psychotherapy, psychiatrists may treat the psychiatric disorder by prescribing medication. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems.”
Individuals seek help from a psychiatrist for many reasons. Some may experience hidden behaviors including panic attacks, hallucinations, or thoughts of suicide. Feelings may be long-term and may never seem to lift. Some people may feel as though everyday life is distorted, and tasks are not manageable.
Psychiatrists perform a variety of treatments including talk therapy and psychosocial interventions. Treatments depend on the needs of the individual patient. Psychiatrists may perform a range of medical laboratory tests to provide an outline of a patient’s mental state.
Psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medications, similar to how other clinicians treat high blood pressure or diabetes. The types of medications that may be administered by psychiatrists may include:
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants may be administered for those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions.
- Sedatives and anxiolytics. Sedatives and anxiolytics may be prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety.
- Antipsychotics. Antipsychotics may be used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychotic symptoms.
- Mood stabilizers. Mood stabilizers may be prescribed for those with bipolar disorder.
- Stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulant and non-stimulant medications are commonly used to treat ADHD.
Because psychiatrists can prescribe medications, they may order the GeneSight test, whereas a psychologist would have to work with a prescribing clinician like a psychiatrist, a primary care provider, or a nurse practitioner.
How Do You Choose a Psychologist or Psychiatrist?
Choosing a Psychiatrist
Choosing a provider is an individual and personal choice. Some individuals may choose to see a psychiatrist as well as a psychologist; others may choose one or the other. You may want to talk to your primary care physician about a referral to determine which type of mental health professional you should see based on your medical history and mental illness. If a patient chooses a psychiatrist, they can review your medical record to understand the full picture.
A psychiatrist can help determine if medication treatment may help with any depressive symptoms that are significantly impacting your body and/or ability to complete daily activities. If you are already taking prescription medications for other conditions, a psychiatrist may consider drug-drug interactions as well.
What to Look for in a Psychiatrist
Those who have never visited a psychiatrist may not know how to find one that suits their specific needs. There are a few factors to keep in mind when you search for a psychiatrist:
- Your condition or concern. Psychiatrists treat many conditions, but some specialize in areas of focus that may suit your needs. You may want to look for a psychiatrist, who may treat your conditions while matching your specific conditions and concerns.
- Which medications you may or may not need. You may need a psychiatrist to manage medications while also providing talk therapy options.
- Credentials. When choosing the best psychiatrist for you, you may want to consider their credentials. Do they have proper education, training, licensing and practice experience? Which areas of mental health do they specialize in? Be sure to research their treatment approaches and philosophy as well.
Choosing a Psychologist
“Psychologists who specialize in psychotherapy and other forms of psychological treatment are highly trained professionals with expertise in the areas of human behavior, mental health assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and behavior change,” according to the American Psychological Association.
There are multiple ways in which you can find a psychologist. You can talk to your current physician, call your local psychological association, or consult a local college department of psychology for quality practitioners. Other places to search for psychologists who you feel comfortable around include community mental health centers and local churches or synagogues.
The American Psychological Association indicates that comfortability is an important component in finding a psychologist for you.
“Most psychologists agree that an important factor in determining whether or not to work with a particular psychologist, once that psychologist’s credentials and competence are established is your level of personal comfort with that psychologist,” the article states. “A good rapport with your psychologist is critical.”
It is important to note that it may take multiple appointments or sessions with several psychologists before finding the best one to suit your needs.
In an article in Forbes, Marian Margulies, PhD, a psychologist in New York City and a candidate in psychoanalysis at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education at the NYU Medical Center said that, “If you’re not getting to the cause of the pain, you’re essentially chained to the past. Psychotherapy gets to the root.”
Margulies also noted that, “the time to start talking about feelings is as early as possible.”
Seeking therapy from either a psychiatrist or psychologist may give you the help you need to combat symptoms and struggles of depression and anxiety.
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.