What is the difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

Visitors to our office often express confusion over the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist.  While the two may sound very similar, they are actually very different in terms of professional training and areas of clinical focus.

Psychiatrists, simply stated, are physicians.  They are trained in medical schools and receive the same training as any other doctor.  After completing their medical training, they go on to complete advanced training in psychiatry including how to help individuals with emotional suffering by prescribing medications such as anti-depressants and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medicines).  While some psychiatrists may provide counseling and psychotherapy to their patients, more and more psychiatrists limit their practices to the prescription of psychotropic (mood altering) medications.

Psychologists, on the other hand, are not physicians.  Their training is usually in university departments of psychology and focuses on human development, emotion, socialization, and the utilization of various forms of psychotherapy in helping individuals, couples, and families overcome depression, anxiety, interpersonal conflict and other forms of emotional suffering.  Psychologist also typically receive extensive training in the administration and interpretation of psychological tests for the purpose of diagnosing and treating psychological and emotional problems.  Most psychologist are also experts in the design and interpretation of research using advanced statistical and scientific methods to study human behavior and emotional suffering.

Psychologists and psychiatrists usually work closely together in treating individuals by coordinating medication therapy (psychiatrist) and talk therapy (psychologist) in order to offer each individual the most therapeutic benefit.  Research has shown repeatedly that this approach of combining medicine and talk therapy is in many cases more beneficial than either approach in isolation.

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