In my private practice, I am frequently asked about the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Many of my clients will ask me if I can prescribe medication to them. The answer is no. In the state of Georgia, a licensed psychologist cannot prescribe medications. So, what are the training requirements for a psychologist or a psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist attends medical school and spends many years training to prescribe medication after deciding upon a specialty. He or she spends years studying how the human body responds to various medications and then practices under the supervision of licensed physicians on how to effectively treat various psychological difficulties. During their training, psychiatrists also are trained to provide talk therapy. However, after psychiatrists earn their degree and complete their training, only a very limited amount provide traditional talk therapy. A majority of psychiatrists focus on medication management. Very frequently, psychiatrists will refer their clients to a licensed psychologist for individual, family, or couples counseling.
A licensed psychologist earns an undergraduate degree and then continues on to graduate school. Some psychologists earn a Master’s degree in counseling and then continue on to earn a doctoral degree in either Clinical or Counseling Psychology. Other psychologists go from their undergraduate degree straight to earning a doctoral degree. During the doctoral training, budding psychologists learn about human interaction, how to effectively counsel individuals, families, and couples through their emotional difficulties, and learn how to conduct and understand research that helps them to better understand people. After a psychologist has earned their doctoral degree, or Ph.D. (Doctorate of Psychology), they continue on to gain more training under the supervision of licensed psychologists. Once they have completed all of their training and passed a licensing exam, they can provide counseling or psychological testing independently and without the supervision of another licensed psychologist.
Psychologists frequently work with psychiatrists. During their graduate level training psychologists learn about the brain and its functions. They understand how psychotropic medications impact the brain and how it can be beneficial to some of their clients. However, psychologists are not trained to understand the chemical interactions of many medications simultaneously and how to prescribe those types of medications. Many research studies have been conducted to look at the efficacy of psychotropic medications and/or therapeutic interventions. The findings indicate that a combination of both lead to a more positive outcome.
Although not all of my clients require medication, some do. It is very important to have a collaborative relationship between your psychologist and psychiatrist. Having open communication between the professionals allows for each professional to provide the best care based on their specialty.