Maybe you’re an addict. Maybe you see, hear, and fear spirits in the night. Has breaking up with your boyfriend got you crying the blues? Perhaps a loved one passed on. You are down in the dumps, your life is awry, your head is mush, and you want to “see somebody” to set things right.
These represent good reasons to seek help with your mental health. A zillion other reasons exist out there too. But whom should you see, a psychiatrist or a psychologist? Which one will help you best out of the bad place you’re in?
San Diego psychologist Dr. Rochelle Perper describes the three major differences between a psychologist and a psychologist to help in making your choice.
- Psychiatrists can prescribe medications, psychologists cannot.
- Psychologists typically provide talk therapy, whereas the majority of psychiatrists do not.
- Psychiatrists earned an M.D. in medical school followed by four years of mental health residency, while psychologists earned the Ph.D. in the discipline followed by a two-year internship with a licensed practitioner.
So both are doctors in the academic sense, although it would be wise to examine the diplomas mounted on the office wall to distinguish between the two different advanced degrees. Choose people who call themselves counselors or therapists with care, as the folks who use these titles haven’t had as much professional training, if any at all.
Both psychiatrists and psychologists can competently deal with the issues going on in your head or your heart. Yet what they do for you and your problems typically takes two different tacks: one with drugs, the other with talk. Having said that, some individuals and some mental health problems might benefit from both, setting you on a path to recovery with you or medications or both in control of the process.
Which kind of doctor to see depends on how they will be paid. Know that a psychiatrist is paid through medical insurance. As a medical doctor employing drugs rather than talk, psychiatrists are less likely to listen to you for an hour on the couch than diagnosing and prescribing for four people in that same 60 minutes.
A psychologist, on the other hand, uses talk therapy as the tool back to health for the troubled, who self-pay for service, thus making more investment of their own time and money in their own recovery.
Psychiatrists have patients, psychologists have clients. Perhaps that makes a difference in how you perceive your problem, what you call yourself, who or what controls your recovery, and therefore provides a clue as to whom you should see.
In the final analysis, what helps with your mental health issues depends on what works. Be they medications to correct some chemical imbalance or long chats with an impartial but interested observer, the good doctors can bring you back to be the person you really want to be.