Psychiatrists VS. Psychologists

As someone who has been in therapy for quite some time, I feel like I have a good grasp on the similarities and differences between Psychiatrists and Psychologists. Most people will tell you the difference comes down to the fact that Psychiatrists can and do prescribe medication where as Psychologists can’t and don’t. But in reality, there are many more subtle ways that the two helping professions differ.

Session length
For me, my Psychiatry sessions go for 20 minutes. Sometimes, if I really need it, I will get 40 minute sessions. But even at their longest, my Psychiatry appointments are still shorter than a standard Psychology appointment of 50 minutes (which we always go over anyway). That is something I have noticed too. My Psychiatrist has never gone over time for me. My Psychologist does it all the time.

Session costs
I am fortunate to have a Psychiatrist who bulk bills me. Not all Psychiatrists will do this but because they are medical doctors they have the option to bulk bill. Which is a blessing because those 20 minute sessions alone cost more than my 50(60) minute Psychology sessions. Another factor that makes Psychology more affordable is the 10 Medicare covered sessions. Whilst I could talk forever about how 10 isn’t enough, it is still a great start.

Session content/Questions asked
Beyond the cost and time differences, Psychology and Psychiatry sessions feel extremely different. When I am talking to my Psychiatrist I feel as though I am checking off a list. He asks me about my medication, my sleep, my diet, my exercise, each of my significant relationships; all the while looking for a sign/risk that I might be/become unwell. Sometimes this is a great and efficient way of communicating. Other times it can feel dehumanising, especially when I have something on my mind and don’t really feel like I have the space to talk about it. On the other hand, my Psychologist allows me to very much lead the discussions with what I want to talk about. Conversations feel a lot more organic and less harshly structured.

Philosophical underpinning
You may have gathered from above, Psychiatrists and Psychologists have a different way of viewing and understanding their clients. Whilst Psychologists may be influenced by all sorts of different theories, with many using an eclectic approach, Psychiatrists are largely driven by the biomedical model. This is important to consider when looking at what kind of professional you want to see. Do you want to be treated like a patient or a client? Or a bit of both?

Whilst I named this blog ‘Psychiatrists Vs. Psychologists’ I think the two compliment each other quite well. At least in my particular case. If you’re anything like me, you’ll recognise the benefit of both Psychiatry and Psychology. Some days all I have the energy for is a Psychiatry appointment. I really can’t be bothered with all the deep introspection of a Psychology session. Other days, all I want is my Psychologist and I find speaking to my Psychiatrist stifling. But I know that both play their role in keeping me well.

I hope this post helped to decipher some of the nuances between Psychologists and Psychiatrists. I encourage everyone to explore their treatment and mental health options. This could even mean looking beyond mental health professionals to community based interventions and social engagement like choirs and sport. Whatever helps you feel better, keep doing it. If you  haven’t found it yet, I hope this article helps to make the path a little clearer.

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