In recent years, advocacy and awareness for mental health has increased significantly. The importance of seeking mental health services has been emphasized now more than ever yet, many people do not know whether they should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. In fact, the two professions are often thought of as the same when in reality, there are distinct differences.
First and foremost, psychologists and psychiatrists have very different educational backgrounds. To become a psychologist, you must attend university and complete a 4 year undergraduate program. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you would need to attend a 2 year master’s program in psychology before beginning a 4 year Ph.D/Psy.D program in clinical psychology. In Ontario, you must register with the College of Psychologists of Ontario after all of your course requirements and internships are complete. Once you have passed the licensing exam, you may begin to practice as a licensed clinical psychologist. Overall, it takes about 10 years to become a certified psychologist.
In contrast, you must attend medical school to become a psychiatrist. Once you have completed a 4 year undergraduate program, you would have to go to medical school for approximately 4 years to obtain a medical degree. Next, you are required to complete a residency program which is another 4 years. Typically, your residency would take place at a hospital setting in the psychiatric unit. Once your residency is complete, you must pass a provincial exam in order to become a licensed medical doctor. If you choose to have a subspecialty such as child psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, general psychiatry etc. then you may have to complete a 1-2 year fellowship. Overall, it takes approximately 12-14 years to become a certified psychiatrist.
Psychologists and psychiatrists play an important role in mental health treatment. Both professionals study the human brain, feelings, thoughts, and emotions but their treatment methods are quite different.
A major difference between the two careers is prescriptive authority or the ability to prescribe medication. Since psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they are able to prescribe medication whereas psychologists cannot. Psychiatrists often spend much of their time providing, monitoring, and adjusting medication to help manage their patient’s mental health disorders. In addition, you must get a referral from a family doctor before seeking treatment from a psychiatrist, whereas a referral is not always required to see a psychologist.
On the other hand, psychologists focus on different forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), somatic experiencing, family therapy, play therapy, and other non-invasive therapies to treat their client’s emotional and mental suffering. Psychologists are trained to use psychological tests to observe, assess, and diagnose any issues with feeling, thinking, and behaviour. Only a psychologist can assess and diagnose learning disabilities. Psychologists often focus on writing reports for auto-insurance claims as well as assessments for accommodations in school and the work place.
Since both psychologists and psychiatrists play an active role in mental health treatment, they often work collaboratively. For instance, a psychologist may assess and diagnose an individual before referring them to a psychiatrist who will then prescribe/monitor medications. While it is not mandatory for an individual to go to both, it may be helpful and more efficient when addressing symptoms.
In Ontario, seeking treatment from a psychiatrist is free as it is covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). Unfortunately, OHIP does not cover psychological services, but private health insurance or extended health care benefits may cover all if not, some services offered by a psychologist. Contact your insurance company to find out how much coverage you can receive.
Dr. Arnold Muller is a clinical psychologist at Neuropotential Clinics. He has 31 years of experience as a licensed psychologist in two countries and various settings. He holds two master’s degrees and one Ph.D with specialization in Psychotherapy. Dr. Muller specializes in different modalities of psychotherapy, but he is also experienced in psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan preparation and application. The population he serves includes individuals of all ages, couples, small groups, and families. If you are in search for an experienced psychologist, call Neuropotential Clinics today at 416-398-9991.