When people face psychological problems, quite often, it is difficult for them to find out which specialist could provide them with qualified assistance.

So, what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Is it the same as a coach (trainer) or a psychotherapist? Who should they contact for advice? This is a reasonable and common doubt, and this article should clarify it for you.

Definitions: Child and adolescent psychiatry. Applied psychology

Sometimes people are sure that psychologists and psychiatrists are the specialists, who are working in the same sphere, or they even may be the same person. However, it is not true. Let’s define both areas.

Psychiatry is a medical specialization that began to develop in the 19th century. It was singled out for the treatment of mental illness, based on the assumption that they have common characteristics with physical illness. Meanwhile, psychology has always been associated with philosophy and began its active development in the second half of the twentieth century. It was then that it began to fulfill its functions of treating mental disorders and problems of this kind.

Psychology did not stand out as a separate science until Sigmund Freud. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it originated from medicine and began to do something similar to what modern people now call the therapeutic approach in psychotherapy. At that time, scientists in the field of psychology were engaged more in research, rather than directly treating patients with psychological problems. Thus, the first approaches to mental disorders and issues originate from psychiatry.

Currently, there is significant competition between psychiatrists and psychologists. One possible reason is that, until recently, psychology was not considered a profession regulated in the field of healthcare. And today, the services of psychologists who do not have the status of medical services are still offered. Both of these areas are closely related disciplines, and the skills of specialists often intersect, so it’s not so easy to differentiate them.

What does a psychiatrist do?

Psychologist and psychiatrist are experts working in related but quite different areas. A psychiatrist  is a specialist who has studied medicine and, after that, has chosen a psychiatric specialty. The representatives of this profession are the only ones who can prescribe various kinds of medications and have a profound awareness of the biological structure of the brain in general as well as its functioning in particular.

The intervention of them is aimed at the physiology and biochemistry of the brain. That is, the specialists are responsible for treating men and women with emotional or mental illness with the help of drug prescription. Psychiatrists, in a general sense, are not taught the techniques of psychological therapy. It means the treatment that they carry out, as a rule, is not aimed at educating their patient’s strategies as well as methods that help them in solving the problems of emotional and behavioral character.

However, some psychiatrists additionally study psychological techniques. The matter is that they are interested in them to offer their patients a more comprehensive range of services.

psychology vs psychiatry psychologist psychiatrist psychology session

Psychologist job description

In their turn, psychologists are specialists who are qualified in applied psychology. They specialize in techniques for resolving the problems of the emotional and behavioral character using specific strategies and training methods. Here it should be mentioned that psychologists cannot prescribe medication.

In recent years, more attention has been paid to state regulation of psychology. Psychologists of specific specializations have an expanded range of powers (clinical psychologists). They are trained in the competencies necessary for the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of all types of psychological problems.

Should I see a psychiatrist or psychologist?

Following the contemporary definition as a specialist, a psychiatrist is responsible for prescribing necessary prescription drugs, but this person does not provide such therapy. In his or her turn, the psychologist cannot write prescriptions. Still, with the help of a therapy technician, he or she can teach you strategies and treatment methods that can solve emotional and behavioral problems  without any medication.

All in all, the activity of a psychiatrist and psychologist, in more severe cases, is carried out in combination since, in the treatment of specific disorders, only this form of therapy can be useful, but this is far from always necessary.

Psychotherapist job description

The term of therapist creates significant confusion. A doctor or a psychotherapist is a person who has the right to perform any therapy depending on the needs of the patient. This specialist has the appropriate education and can, in many cases, be useful. Nevertheless, some caution must be observed when you are looking for the answer to the question, “Where can I find a psychiatrist near me?”

Under this condition, a proper specialist should be chosen. A person has to understand what kind of therapy is the most effective and reliable. A person who positions himself or herself as a psychotherapist quite often does not have the training or knowledge necessary to treat psychological problems.

Life coach & career coach

A coach is a specialist whose role is to help the people achieve their goals and objectives. They cannot carry out drug treatment. Therefore, men and women who come to these professionals should not have any severe disorders or psychological problems. It is curious that the psychologist has the skills to work as a trainer (for example, in personal growth pieces of training), but not vice versa. Therefore, the competence of the coach in this context can be considered more limited.


Choosing a specialist. Should I go to a local psychiatrist?

The decision to choose an experienced professional or someone else is entirely personal. However, often modern people do not get the expected results just because of a lack of information. This is what inspired and motivated most specialists to write a lot of various recommendations. 

The professionals’ recommendation is as follows: if the person has psychological problems, he or she should study the existing treatment methods in more detail, and first of all, sign up for a consultation with a clinical psychologist. Moreover, then this specialist, having studied all the details of your problem, will refer the patients to additional psychiatrist treatment if necessary.

If they don’t have any discomfort, malaise, and they want to improve their life in some aspect, they can turn to a personal growth coach or psychologist (clinical or not), since both have the necessary training for this work.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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