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Mental Health Center

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Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which Is Right for You?

Whom Should You Call?

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are generally covered equally by health insurance programs, and both often work on a sliding scale when it comes to patients paying out of pocket.

One possible advantage of seeing a psychiatrist is that, as a medical doctor, he or she has the knowledge and training to evaluate underlying medical problems or drug effects that could cause emotional or behavioral symptoms. Psychiatrists can also work more readily with your primary care doctor or other specialists. “As part of our residency, we’re trained in different settings, like pediatrics, outpatient, and the emergency room,” says psychiatrist Gorrindo. “We speak the language of any other part of the hospital.”

For serious kinds of mental health problems, such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, where physical symptoms may be severe and it may be hard to take basic care of yourself, psychiatrists generally have more formal training and treatment options available.

In the treatment of less severe kinds of mental health problems, who you see can often be more a matter of personal preference. “A lot of people don’t like the idea of medication,” Wright says. “They’re afraid they’re going to get addicted, or that by changing their body chemistry, they are somehow broken.” They’re more likely to see a psychologist first.

Wright says your choice should be guided by the type of problem you’re having. Someone who may be clinically depressed could benefit from taking medication, while someone dealing with a phobia might find therapy with a psychologist the most effective choice. Usually, if a psychologist is treating someone whom they feel has severe symptoms (such as suicidal or highly irrational thoughts), they may suggest a consultation with a psychiatrist to help clarify a diagnosis and possibly prescribe medications.

Just Get Help

If you’re still struggling with the decision between psychology and psychiatry, Wright recommends talking it over with your primary care doctor. “One size does not fit all,” she says. “Different things can work at different points or work together. There is no wrong way as long as you’re doing something and being open with your provider about what’s working and what’s not.”

Gorrindo is in agreement. “If you’re worried about being depressed or some other mental issue, it doesn’t matter who you go to,” he says. “Just go to someone.”

“At the end of the day,” Wright says, “both psychology and psychiatry are built around strong relationships based on trust and confidentiality.”

Once you’ve made a choice about the type of help, you may need to see a few different doctors before you decide on the one who’s right for you.

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Reviewed on September 16, 2015

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