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What's the difference between psychiatry and psychology?

psychiatry psychology symbolsConfused about the difference between these two branches of mental health care? Read on to find out more.

What do psychology and psychiatry mean?

The clues are in the words themselves – if you know Ancient Greek, that is. ‘Psych’ is derived from the Ancient Greek word for ‘mind’, ‘iatry’ comes from ‘iatrea’ which means healing or medical practice and ‘logy’ comes from ‘logia’ meaning science or theory. So in plain English, ‘psychiatry’ is about looking at the biological causes of mental health problems, while ‘psychology’ looks more at the social and emotional reasons for people’s thoughts and behaviour. Psychology also has a broader scope: it includes research into all elements of the mind, not just mental health.

What’s the difference in training?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors, meaning they have to go to medical school and work in hospitals before they can qualify. Psychologists don’t study at medical school, and can have a range of qualifications depending on the area they specialise in. Some, like clinical psychologists, need to have a doctorate, whereas others like forensic psychologists and health psychologists qualify after studying a postgraduate diploma.

What’s the difference in practice?

The main difference is that psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, while psychologists cannot. Instead, clinical psychologists will use counselling and therapeutic techniques like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and psychoanalysis to try to solve someone’s mental health issues. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that psychiatry is a short-term treatment for conditions like schizophrenia, and psychology is long-term treatment for conditions like depression, as some people might believe. Psychiatrists and psychologists often work very closely together on certain cases. For example, after a patient has been treated by a psychiatrist in hospital they might be referred to a psychologist, who will then consult with the psychiatrist about any medication the patient needs as part of their rehabilitation. Psychologists are also likely to work in a wider range of settings, such as education psychologists in schools, while some companies might hire occupational psychologists to improve employees’ relationships at work.

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