What’s the Difference Between Psychiatry and Psychology?

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When I first began seeking help for my mental health, there were so many unfamiliar terms. The most confusing for me at first was simply the difference between the two different types of doctors available: psychiatrists and psychologists. I’m sure I’m not the only person who was confused about the difference between the two, so I wanted to help out anyone else who might be in the same boat.

Essentially, psychiatry is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnoses, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. Meanwhile, psychology is the study of the mind and behavior.

So what does this mean? Since a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, that means that they can prescribe medicine. So when you need to get on mental health medication or alter the drugs you’re on, you’ll want to see a psychiatrist. They can also diagnose your mental disorders and give you testing.

If you’re looking for talk therapy, however, you’ll want to see a psychologist. While they can’t prescribe you medications, these are the professionals you’ll want to see when you want help working through your problems. Cognitive and behavioral therapies as well as many others, including art therapy, are just some of the services they offer.

Depending on the type of help you need, you might need to go to one or the other, or you can seek out both types of help (which is what I need to stay healthy). If you’re not sure what you need, talk to your doctor for recommendations.

I’m American, so I don’t know anything about options in other countries. If you do and want to offer some advice, please do so in the comments. So, some tips for Americans seeking mental health care:

  • If you have health insurance, check your provider’s website or call them for a list of psychiatrists and psychologists that your insurance will cover. Don’t expect it to be easy, however; I have great insurance through my job, but it was still an epic pain-in-the-ass to search through hundreds of names to find a good provider.
  • If you don’t have insurance, you still have options. There are free or sliding-scale practices all over the country, and a Google search will help you find them.
  • If you don’t have time to go to a doctor’s office and would prefer to seek help online, there are resources for that too. The only one I’ve used is Talkspace because my employer offers a service through them. I didn’t stick with it because I prefer face to face appointments, but it’s a great option if you prefer video chats or emailing with a psychologist.
  • Finally, if you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, please seek help immediately. Either visit your local hospital or call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255, which is available in both English and Spanish.

If you need help with your mental health, I know it can be scary and overwhelming to find the services, doctors, and medications that are right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!



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Author: Penny W

Absolutely bookish.

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