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Psychologist or Psychiatrist

Are you a Psychologist or Psychiatrist, and what's the difference?

I am a Psychologist. Even though both can be described as mental health professionals, and both are doctors, there are some important differences. The first is that Psychiatrists are medical doctors. The letters "M.D." will usually be listed after their names. They can also be called "physicians". Psychologists are doctors, but usually have a doctorate in an area of psychology, and no medical training. For instance, I have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Clinical Psychology. Some of my Psychologist friends have a Psy.D., or Doctorate of Psychology. In the case of psychotherapy, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a Psy.D. are largely equivical. More on that in another post.

Most commonly, Psychiatrists use medications to treat mental health disorders. Psychologists use various forms of "talk therapy" or psychotherapy to treat mental health disorders. Psychiatrists can do talk therapy (most do not do this), but Psychologists cannot prescribe medication.

If someone were to ask me, "Should I see a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist for my depression?" I would reply, "Why not both?" For many mental health issues, medications used along with psychotherapy treatments produce some of the best outcomes. Medications can be effective for short-term relief of symptoms, and psychotherapy can produce solid long-term symptoms relief and maintanance of mental health.

Opinion: The research supporting the effectiveness of medications to help with various mental health problems is robust and convincing. In fact, there are some mental disorders that I feel can only be effectively treated with medication (and make it possible for those people to benefit from psychotherapy). I asked a psychiatrist the other day, however, what he tells his patients when they ask for alternatives, or treatments to supplement medication for treating depression, and he said "Omega-3 fatty acid". I don't know about the research on Omega-3s and depression (please ask your physician if you have questions), but I replied with, "how about exercise?" He said, "Oh, of course you should be exercising." It seems like a new article comes out weekly about the positive impact of exercise on mental health. Why was he not ready with that response? And if he was not able to tell me that when I asked for alternatives, how about all his patients who do not ask? How often does the word "exercise", or phrases "socialize with friends", or "get 8 hours of sleep" make it into his treatment plan? Consequently, there is research supporting the use of medications, exercise, socializing, and appropriate sleep to help manage mild to moderate depression. Ask your doctor for details.

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