Doctor, Who?

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist

There are way too many people who do not understand the differences between different types of medical specialist, so we have made it our duty to educate our members and enlighten the path to your general medical knowledge through the “Doctor, Who?” series of blogs…

These mistakes are commonly made because there can be multiple medical specialists that focus on similar aspects of the human anatomy. In this month’s installment of the Doctor Who Series we look at the difference between a Psychologist vs Psychiatrist.

It is common knowledge that if you need professional help with regards to your mental health you should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. But what’s the difference between the two? In this blog we will look at the difference between the two fields based on the nature, education and treatment courses of each discipline. Once you know how the two professions differ, you will be better equipped to choose the right doctor for you.

Nature of Psychology vs Psychiatry

The term Psychology is derived from the Greek phrase meaning “the study of the mind”. Like all academic disciplines, the psychology involves the scientific and systematic study of human behavior and mental functions. Conclusions made in psychology are heavily based on controlled experiments, symbolic interpretation and critical analysis.

Psychiatry, however, is a term that was coined by Johann Christian Reil in 1808 derived from the Greek terms for “mind/soul” and “healer/doctor”. It differs from Psychology in that it refers to a specialty of medicine that specifically addresses the mind, specifically aiming to study, prevent, and treat mental disorders in the minds of humans. It has often been viewed as the boundary spanner between the world as it is seen from the perspective of society juxtaposed to the world from the perspective of those who are mentally ill.

Education of Psychology vs Psychiatry

Becoming a psychologist takes at least 7 years of studying and training. This begins with completing an undergraduate degree (usually a B.A.) with a major in psychology, this is followed by completing an honours and a master’s degree in psychology, with a course work element. Once tertiary education is out of the way, the psychology candidate must then complete a year long internship, a year of community service and a professional board exam with a 75% pass mark requirement. In addition to that, all psychologist in South Africa further are also required to be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in order to practice, only then can they be considered a professional psychologist.

The main difference between these two doctors is that Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who have to complete a general medicine degree (MBBCH or MBChB – Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) before embarking on the long journey into the field. Once the degree is complete, the incumbent must take on a year of interning and an additional year of community work. This concludes their requirements to become a qualified doctor where they can treat common illnesses and prescribe medication to the degree of a general practitioner (GP).

Once the incumbent is a doctor, they can now study a further 4 years to specialise in psychiatry, where they will complete a residency in the psychiatric unit of a hospital with a wide variety of patients. Here, Candidates will begin treating patients suffering from mental illnesses by applying varied treatments including prescribing medication. Psychiatrists are also required to be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in order to practice.

Treatment of Psychology vs Psychiatry

Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating relatively well-adjusted patients with emotional and mental distress through interactive, behavior altering interventions. Psychologists are also trained to conduct psychological testing, which is critical in evaluating a person’s mental state and determining the most effective, customized course of treatment for each specific patient.

In contradiction, Psychiatrist are trained doctors that can prescribe medication. This coupled with the fact that most of their patients have been diagnosed with some or other mental illness or disorder, means that a large majority of their patients are on a medication-based course of treatment.

Quick Hit Summary:

Psychologist Psychiatrist
Trained social scientist (Qualification: MA Psychology or PhD Psychology) Trained medical doctor (Qualification: MMed Psych or FF Psych or FCPsych)
Registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa Registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa
Treat relatively well-adjusted patients with emotional and mental distress through interactive Treat patients that show symptoms of or have been diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder
Use interactive and practical treatments to alter behavior Use medication-based treatments to alter behavior

Although we have gone to a great length to outline the crucial difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist, this does not mean that they are mutually exclusive medical disciplines. In fact, Psychologists and Psychiatrists often work together on common patients, working hand-in-hand to provide the best possible mental care from both clinical and behavioral perspectives.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the Doctor Who series to find out if you really are medical knowledge boffin or to get in the know about the difference between medical disciplines. Remember that you should always consult your GP if you feel that you need to be referred to a specialist. The aim of this series is to empower you and keep you medically savvy.

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