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Psychiatrists and psychologists: what’s the difference?

By Will Sutherland

Psychological disorders and life stressors can be incredibly challenging and figuring out how to get the right help can be confusing. Two of the main types of mental health professionals are psychologists and psychiatrists. Although both help people with similar issues, there are some key differences that you should consider when seeking help. Psychiatrists have a medical degree pertaining to mental health disorders, whereas psychologists have studied the science of human behaviour. They often work in collaboration with each other and your GP as well. For some people with severe disorders it can be helpful to utilise as many specialists as possible to cover different needs. However, this can be a financial burden, so choosing the most appropriate option is important.

Psychiatrists

What do they do?

Psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medications, address medical issues and use psychotherapeutic techniques. They might work in hospitals, community health service or in private practice.

When would you see one?

If you are experiencing severe symptoms from psychological disorders then its appropriate to see a psychiatrist. These might include PTSD, severe depression and anxiety, or other disorders. If you have found psychotherapy or other interventions insufficient, its appropriate to consider seeing a psychiatrist. They are also qualified to make an official diagnosis of psychological disorders.

Psychologists

What do they do?

Psychologists study human behaviour and how it relates to our thoughts and feelings. They use evidence-based therapies to help people with psychological disorders and life stressors. These disorders might include anxiety and depression, trauma or grief. Life stressors might include financial stress, relationships, parenting, being a victim of crime or aging. They might work in hospitals, community health service or in private practice.

When would you see one?

If you are experiencing significant distress, especially if it’s impairing important areas of your life. They can assist you when you feel unable to understand or function in aspects of your life. Additionally, they can provide an assessment of your mental health and some can provide an official diagnosis. Psychologists are often the first line of intervention for mental health issues, although this is not a firm rule.

Key Differences

 PsychiatristsPsychologists
Prescribe Medication
Officially DiagnoseCertain psychologists like clinical psychologists can. It’s best to check with the psychologist first.
Psychotherapeutic interventionsSome might specialise in diagnosis and medication and less so in psychotherapies and counselling. It’s best to check with the psychiatrist first.
General counsellingSome might specialise in diagnosis and medication and less so in psychotherapies and counselling. It’s best to check with the psychiatrist first.

What next?

If you would like to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, I suggest seeing your GP for assistance. They can give you specific advice and write you a referral. Most psychiatrists require a referral before you can see them, but you can see a psychologist without one. A referral will entitle you to a significant rebate from Medicare.

This resource from Health Direct (https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/question-builder) can help you to articulate yourself when speaking to a mental health or medical professional.

If you have any questions or would like to book in without psychologists or psychiatrists please contact our Client Connect Team on 9809 1000.

References

Who’s who in mental health services | betterhealth.vic.gov.au. (n.d.). Www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/servicesandsupport/whos-who-in-mental-health-services#psychologists

The role of the psychiatrist in Australia and New Zealand | RANZCP. (n.d.). Www.ranzcp.org. https://www.ranzcp.org/news-policy/policy-and-advocacy/position-statements/role-of-psychiatrist-in-australia-and-new-zealand

Psychiatrists and psychologists. (2021, December 6) www.healthdirect.gov.au. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/psychiatrists-and-psychologists#:~:text=The%20main%20difference%20between%20the

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