What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists first train as medical physicians and obtain an M.D. and complete a medical internship as other physicians do. Thereafter, they complete a three-year residency program in psychiatry, nearly always in a hospital, and receive specific training in the treatment of mental disorders, usually with an underlying medical component, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and clinical depression. As physicians, psychiatrists can prescribe drugs and use other medical procedures, which psychologists cannot. However, with additional study in pharmacology, in some states in the U.S., qualified psychologists can prescribe drugs. Discussions are underway in Canada for psychologists to undertake similar study and qualification to prescribe medications as a possibility in the future. In the meantime, psychologists work in collaboration with family physicians and psychiatrists where medications are required.

Psychologists perform similar work often using a broader range of techniques and follow a different training path as follows: In Canada and the U.S., Clinical or Health Psychologists must obtain a doctoral (Ph.D. or Psy.D) degree through academic study and research. This typically requires about nine years in university, followed by an additional year of supervised intern experience usually in a clinical setting such as a hospital or clinic. Thereafter, they must pass written and oral exams to qualify as a Registered Psychologist with the College of Psychologists specific to each province or state in Canada or the U.S., which permits one to use the title Psychologist and to practice independently.

Do psychologists provide a diagnosis concerning psychological, behavioural, and mental functioning?

Psychologists are authorized by the Regulated Health Professions Act to diagnose and treat neuropsychological disorders and dysfunctions, as well as, psychotic, neurotic and personality disorders and dysfunctions and the maintenance and enhancement of physical, intellectual, emotional, social and interpersonal functioning. Psychologists also work with more every day problems such as stress management, marital, couples, family counseling, and work-related issues such as performance, professional development, career fit, and “burn-out.”

How Can a Psychologist help?

Psychologists see people of all ages from children to older adults. People are seen individually or as a couple or as a family. Psychologists also work with groups of people with similar problems.

A treatment session usually lasts about 50 minutes. During the session, the psychologist works with the person to better understand their problems and find ways to resolve them. Psychological testing may also be carried out to provide additional diagnostic information or to pull information together more quickly in a systematic manner.

Psychologists use their specialized knowledge of human behavior, emotion, personality, and mental processes to make diagnoses and their treatment skills to help people make healthy changes in their coping styles and emotional and behavioural patterns.

How useful and reliable are psychological tests?

Only registered psychologists are trained and qualified to administer and interpret a wide range of personality and psychological tests with sufficient depth and understanding. Many of these tests are not available to non-psychologists to use and make qualified interpretations. Tests are well suited to bring into awareness underlying personality/behaviour patterns, skill sets and talents. Many people take their natural skills and aptitudes for granted or are unaware of their existence. Testing can illuminate how strong they are compared to large normative groups of people.

Psychologists endeavor to use tests that are well researched and found to achieve accepted standards of validity (the test measures the personality and behavioural characteristics that it purports to measure) and reliability (the test consistently measures the identified personality and behavioural characteristic repeatedly over time) are used.



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