What's the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

What's the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and who should you see? People often confuse these terms, and while there are similarities – both start with the prefix ‘psych’, as they are both experts in how the brain works and can treat mental illnesses through psychological therapies, but there are distinct differences between the two professions.

Psychiatrists

A psychiatrist has gone through medical school and specialised in mental health. To become a psychiatrist, they go through at least 11 years of training (often more), with at least 1-2 years spent training as a general doctor and at least 5 years of training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. As such, they are equipped to make links between mental and psychical issues and are also able to write medical prescriptions. In terms treating patients, psychiatrists can make diagnosis and manage treatment through a broad range of therapies to suit more complex mental illnesses and conditions (such as severe depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).

Psychologists

Psychologists have at minimum of 6 years of university training and supervised experience in mental health. They can hold a Masters or Doctorate (or PhD, which qualifies them to be called ‘Dr’ though not a medical doctor) in psychology. ‘Clinical psychologists’ have special training in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. When it comes to treatment, psychologists focus on talking therapies, or psychotherapy, to treat patients. They tend to see people who might have behavioural problems, learning difficulties, depression and anxiety.

They're both here to help

It is common for psychiatrists and psychologists to work together, often with a psychiatrist making an initial assessment and diagnosis, and referring on to a psychologist for ongoing care via talking therapy. Often, you may be referred by a GP for one-off psychiatry assessments (and sometimes follow up psychiatry appointments), and then the psychiatrist may refer you onto a psychologist. You do not need a referral to see a psychologist, though you will need one (along with a Mental Health Treatment Plan) tro receive a Medicare benefit.

Call to Mind offers psychiatry and psychology appointments, and is also able to arrange GP consults for those in need of a referral to see a mental health clinician.