Clinical Psychologists vs Psychiatrists: Key Differences to Consider

Clinical Psychologists vs Psychiatrists: Key Differences to Consider

This article will discuss the differences between clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, so read on to find the treatment that best suits your needs.

Each year, more than 18 percent of U.S. adults will suffer from mental illness.

Given recent events, this number is expected to rise.

While there is help available for mental illness, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health and most people don’t have a good understanding of their options. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists are two types of mental health providers that most people have at least heard of.

While psychologists and psychiatrists are both mental health practitioners, there are a number of distinct differences between the two. Whether you should see a psychologist or psychiatrist for your care depends on your specific needs.

Keep reading to learn more about the important differences between these providers and how to know which one to see. 

What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists have different backgrounds and educational requirements, work in different settings, and use different tools to help patients with their mental health. While they share some of the same goals, they work differently to achieve them.

Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to become a psychologist or psychiatrist and how they each help patients. 

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist Qualifications 

Psychiatrists are graduates of medical school having earned one of two types of medical degrees. These include the doctor of medicine (MD) and the doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).

After psychiatrists graduate from medical school, they must pass an exam to become licensed to practice medicine in their state. Then, they have to complete a four-year residency. During this time, they get hands-on experience and training.

They must also pass an exam given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. This allows them to become board certified. They must get recertified every 10 years.

Many psychiatrists are trained in a specialty. Examples include addiction medicine, sleep medicine, pain medicine, forensic psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and geriatric psychiatry. 

Psychologists must finish graduate school and earn a doctorate, but they are not medical doctors. They can earn one of two doctoral degrees – doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or doctor of psychology (PsyD). Earning one of these degrees takes between four to seven years. Upon graduation, psychologists complete a post-doctoral fellowhip treating patients while being supervised by a licensed psychologist.

In order to practice, doctoral level psychologists must pass an exam to become licensed in their state. Psychologists often specialize in areas including clinical psychology, neuropsychology, child and adolescent psychology, geropsychology, and forensic psychology. 

Psychiatrists in Practice

Because psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors, they commonly treat patients who require medication for their mental health condition.

Psychiatrists use clinical evaluation and judgement to diagnose mental health problems. They may also use lab tests to determine which medications may not be indicated. They may also determine if hormonal abnormalities, like disruptions in thyroid function, may be responsible for symptoms they experience. 

Psychiatrists can treat patients with medication or refer them to a psychotherapist for therapy. Psychiatrists can use treatments including light therapy in teh case of seasonal ffective disorder and in cases non responsive to most medications they may prescribe and administer electroconvulsive therapy. 

Clinical Psychologists in Practice

Clinical psychiatrists also treat people with mental health conditions. They diagnose the clients concerns and treat these conditions thorugh nonmedication intercentions. Psychologists do not  generally can’t prescribe medication, except in certain states with an advanced degree in psychopharmacology.

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Licensed psychologists diagnose mental health disorders by interviewing clients, family memebers, and in observing patients. Psychologists often use objective psychological measures to determine the degree and severity of symptoms using population-based averages. Psychologists most commonly treat patients using talk therapy and bheavioral interventions, called psychotherapy. In cases where a person’s sympotms are in the mild to moderate range, psychotherapy can be a better alternative to medication and just as effective.

Your psychologist will talk through your symptoms with you and teach you how to understand and manage your issues. Counseling and clinical psychologists often use cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a highly effective type of talk therapy that aims to change and overcome negative patterns of thinking.

Counseling and clinical psychologists work with individuals, families, couples, and groups. They also work with children to assess their cognitive development and academic abilities.

Psychologists who work with children use art-informed itnerventions and play therapy to learn more about a child’s behaviors and abilities. This type of therapy can be used to improve communication and problem-solving skills and promote positive behavior.

Counseling and clinical psychologists can work in the following settings:

  • Private practice
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehab 
  • Hospice
  • Prisons
  • Universities

Do I Need a Psychologist or Psychiatrist?

If you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. You might be wondering, “Should I see a psychologist or a psychiatrist?” The important thing is that you seek help.

If you see either one of these practitioners, they will point you in the right direction if they can’t meet your needs.

If you have a severe or complex mental health disorder that requires medication, you may be better off seeing a psychiatrist. If you are struggling with your thoughts and going through a particularly rough time, you may benefit from seeing a clinical psychologist.

If you’re looking for mental health assistance for your child, you can get help from either of these providers.

It’s important to talk with your primary care provider about your overall health. They can help you decide which type of mental health practitioner will best suit your needs.

You may also want to check with your insurance company to see which providers are covered. If your insurance doesn’t cover the help you need, many mental health providers will work with you to make sure you can afford to get treatment.

Many patients end up seeing both a psychologist and a psychiatrist. For these patients, a combination of talk therapy and medication is the most effective combination for their condition. 

Make an Appointment with a Clinical Psychologist Today

If you find yourself struggling with your mental health, you are not alone. In the past year, our world has drastically changed.

Most people have experienced significant changes and struggles in their daily life as a result. Many have lost loved ones.

No matter what you are going through, a counseling and/or clinical psychologist can help you navigate life and work through your mental health issues.

Click here to schedule an appointment today and get your mental health back on track for the new year. 

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Dr. Kaia Calbeck

Dr. Kaia Calbeck underwent her doctoral training at the University of Miami’s Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program, which is accredited by the American Psychological Association. Her dissertation received a prestigious Award of Academic Merit. She began her graduate studies at the University of Kentucky, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology.

Dr. Calbeck started her academic career at the University of Florida, where she graduated Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She majored in Psychology, with a minor in Anthropology, and an outside concentration in Dance Performance.

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