Psychology vs Psychiatry
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I've been referred to a psychologist by my GP, I was wondering what the difference was between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?"

Psychologists and psychiatrists both deal with human behaviour and mental health disorders. A psychologist is a person who is trained to uses psychology to help people deal with their problems. These problems are often emotional issues that may not require medication. A large part of what they do is to get the person to recognise their concerns and then find ways of dealing with them using methods that change behaviour. There are different types of psychological therapies available, and the psychologist is trained to assess which one would help you the most. Often psychologists and psychiatrists work together to deal with different issues in the same person.

A psychiatrist is someone who is a medically trained doctor who specialises in mental health disorders. These are problems of the ‘mind’. They are different to those doctors who deal with problems of the brain, who are known as neurologists. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medicines and treatments for these conditions and monitor their effects, which a psychologist is often not able to do. However, they may have undertaken extra training to also use psychology as part of the treatments they offer.

It gets more complicated, because as you may be aware, there are 2 different sorts of ‘doctor’. There are those people who have a medical qualification, that is they went to medical school and trained in medicine. Once they pass their final university exams, they become doctors. The other sort is a Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD. These individuals are usually not medically trained and have done further training in their chosen career. These can be in any subject and once they have passed their exams, they can call themselves ‘doctor’. More confusingly, there are many medically trained doctors who go on to get specialist training in their chosen area of expertise and can do PhD’s. In case you are wondering, they are not called ‘doctor doctor’!

As with any profession, there are levels of specialisation. Within psychiatry, for example, there are those who specialise in condition of older people, for example Alzheimer’s disease, or those who deal with children and adolescents, learning difficulties or eating disorders. Similarly, in psychology, there are those who specialise in developmental psychology, learning theory, clinical or social psychology, and so on. If you have been asked to see one, they will be a clinical psychologist.