Distinguishing between a psychologist and psychiatrist

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between a psychologist and a psychiatrist then you are not alone. Countless people around the world and in Guyana are yet to understand the difference.

We will, therefore, take a look at some of the key differences between the two professions and also what they share in common.

Psychology is the study of the mind and behaviour. There are also many different types of psychologists. There are child psychologists, social psychologists, forensic psychologists, educational psychologists and clinical psychologists, just to name a few. For the purposes of this article, we will look at the clinical psychologist.

The clinical psychologist is trained in identifying, diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. In this regard, treatment refers to counselling and psychotherapy. As a general rule, clinical psychologists do not prescribe medication.

On the one hand, counselling refers to giving problem solving advice to a client or patient and is usually short term. On the other hand, psychotherapy, which requires special training, usually involves examining the root causes of problems by looking at the patient’s thought process and understanding what makes them behave in a certain way. Whereas counselling can be done by any mental health professional, like a social worker or counsellor, psychotherapy may only be done by a clinical psychologist. A clinical psychologist also administers psychological assessments to determine personality and other mental health disorders.

A benchmark principle by which all clinical psychologists must subscribe is confidentiality. This means that unless the client threatens to harm themselves or another person, everything that is said during a session is held within the strictest confidence.

A clinical psychologist must usually have a Master’s or Doctoral degree in psychology. The clinical psychologist is usually regulated by a licensing board. Given that clinical psychology is a relatively new field in Guyana and the Caribbean, a Caribbean Psychology Association is in the making and this will be the regulatory board to which all clinical psychologists must subscribe.

A psychiatrist, meanwhile, is a medical doctor who is trained in identifying, diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. Psychiatrists administer medication and although they can do psychotherapy, they focus more on medication management. Some of the common disorders that a psychiatrist is likely to treat are: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.

Depending on the particular mental health diagnosis, a psychiatrist may choose to prescribe anti-anxiety, anti-depressants or anti-psychotic medication in severe cases.

Many times, the psychiatrist and psychologist will work closely together to support each other. For instance, a person with mild anxiety or mild depression may not necessarily be a candidate for medication and the psychiatrist may refer that patient for psychotherapy. If the psychologist on the other hand finds that their patient may be psychotic or suffering from severe anxiety or depression, they will then refer that patient to see the psychiatrist so that they can be administered with medication. Although the patient may be on medication, they can still continue to work with their psychologist to work through any emotional difficulties they may be facing.

So what do psychiatrists and psychologists have in common? They are both mental health professionals trained in the identification diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. They are both required to keep up with research and development for the improvement of emotional and mental health.

Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you know of someone who is suffering from a mental health condition, please visit your nearest health facility for further information and guidance.

Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department and also sees patients privately. You can send questions, comments or schedule a private consultation at aliciaroopnaraine@gmail.com



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