The most common question psychologists hear: What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Psychologists are essentially scientists who study behaviour, emotion and perception in all contexts. Their field of interest is much wider than just mental illness. Education departments are the biggest employers of psychologists. The role of clinical psychologists however overlaps with the role of psychiatrists, but psychologists do not offer drug-therapy or shock treatment.
Clinical psychology encompasses mental illness to some degree, especially in psychiatric hospitals where psychologists form part of a psychiatric team, but it is mostly about improving how we deal with, and adapt to the problems encountered in our family, social and workaday lives. And it is about personal achievement and life satisfaction. Psychologists are not medical doctors and do not prescribe drugs. They work using counselling and psychotherapy, which I’ll explain in another paper.
Psychiatrists: are medical doctors who have specialised in Psychological Medicine. In other words, they specialise in mental illness. Seriously inappropriate behaviours, thought patterns and emotions making us unable to take proper care of ourselves, or even a danger to others, can have a genetic or other biological cause. In these cases medical intervention is required; drug therapy will be needed, often in concert with psychotherapy or counselling. In these cases a psychiatrist could be the most appropriate specialist to start out with (a doctor’s referral will be needed) although you might very well still need to see a psychologist. Psychiatrist’s patients often report that they get little counselling but their medication is carefully monitored. Your doctor refers patients accordingly.
Choosing a psychologist: Criteria Your Psychologist Should Meet:
o If you live in Australia or USA your psychologist must be registered with a State government psychologist registration authority. This is absolutely essential. In Australia psychologists are now registered by the Federal government via a unit called AHPRA (Aust. Health 心理治療師 Professionals Registration Authority), in the USA the State governments “licence” psychologists and in the UK membership of the British Psychological Society appears to be the required credential with status as a “Chartered Health Psychologist”. State registration/licensure/charter ensures that the psychologist is involved in continuing education. I am not au fait with all the European and Asian countries of course, but a good starting point is to identify the major psychologists’ organisations and your local Department of Health and make enquiries through them.
o Should have membership of a psychologists’ association or society so the psychologist is not professionally isolated.
o Should be well qualified in psychology academically. Depending on the country, an Honours degree with a 2 year supervised internship program would be the minimum acceptable (PhD in USA, Masters in UK and Honours in Australia). But don’t get too “fussed” about academic credentials because in all honesty there is little or no correlation between academic status and professional competence and experience. But make sure the psychologist has at least the minimum required by law (he or she will if legally registered, licenced or chartered), and it is worth noting if the psychologist has any additional diplomas related to your own issue – e.g. counselling, hypnotherapy, child psychology, neuropsychology etc.
o Should have extensive and broad experience in psychology, spanning some years and different focus areas of psychology (e.g. educational, organisational, forensic, intellectual disability, neurological, social psychology, academic etc). Breadth of experience is an important advantage.
o Should ideally be qualified and experienced in some other areas that support and extend the psychologist’s skills and understanding, for example sociology, medicine, nursing, naturopathy, physiotherapy, education, or management.