The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that they have different backgrounds. Both work to provide psychological well-being in people, but in general, they do it in different ways.
First of all, the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that the psychologist studies a career or degree in psychology and, later, takes a Master in Health Psychology or has the option to carry out the P.I.R. (Internal Resident Psychologist) as a clinical psychologist. The psychiatrist, however, studies medicine to later carry out the M.I.R. (Internal Resident Physician) in the specialty of mental illness.
Next, we can say that the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, is in the way of proceeding with the help and therapy that it provides to people who need it.
The psychologist will intervene from a contextual, social, environmental, learning, educational perspective and based on the situations that cause or make the person vulnerable to suffering from some type of disorder. This intervention is carried out from a therapy process that, according to the theoretical orientation, will try to provide tools, resources or skills to help the person to face and manage those states that cause discomfort. The psychologist also helps the person to obtain self-knowledge and, therefore, to self-manage behaviour and emotions. Let’s not forget that psychology is the science that studies human behaviour.
The psychiatrist, however, carries out an intervention based more on the biological and physiological aspects that explain the possible causes of mental disorders. Obviously, he does not forget the contextual characteristics of the individual, but the accent, so to speak, is placed on the chemical, hormonal and biological variables of mental disorders. In this way, its treatment relies mainly on the use of psychotropic drugs (anxiolytics, antidepressants, neuroleptics, among others) and is the one who has the legal capacity to prescribe them. Not so the psychologist, who cannot prescribe any type of drug. However, many psychiatrists have training in different psychotherapeutic strategies, which allows them to carry out a psychological intervention.
It is common for the psychologist and the psychiatrist to work together according to the needs of each person, since, regardless of the pathology, the two interventions, pharmacological and psychotherapeutic, are often necessary.
Sometimes, it seems that the psychiatrist deals with serious mental disorders and the psychologist with the mildest. This is not so. The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist lies in the approximation of the causes that cause a mental disorder. The psychiatrist takes more the biological variables and the psychologist the environmental ones into account. However, both professionals consider the other’s etiological approaches important.
What is true is that in many mental disorders, the biological component is more important in general. For this reason, the psychologist often sees it necessary to refer the person to psychiatric care to favour changes in the person’s condition and to facilitate the learning of psychological tools and resources. At other times, although the biological weight, as a cause, is not the one with the heaviest, treatment with psychotropic drugs is useful when the person has been suffering from a disorder for a long time or certain symptoms are very intense.