Have you ever thought about the difference between a psychiatrist and a therapist? Many people use them interchangeably- but they shouldn’t!
We’ve talked about this topic on the blog before because it’s essential to starting your journey to mental wellness. While there is certainly overlap in the roles psychiatrists and therapists play, they are two distinct titles.
A therapist is a bit of an umbrella term–it can include counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc. It describes the method of care more than the provider–it just means they provide talk therapy.
A psychiatrist on the other hand is a medical doctor. They have completed four years of medical school, an internship and a residency, just like any other medical doctor. Which is because they are doctors, just doctors that specialize in mental health disorders: diagnosing, treating & preventing. Unlike therapists, they usually don’t provide talk therapy as part of their care, but they can diagnose mental illness, prescribe medication and work on a treatment plan that takes into account any other existing medical conditions you have or are currently treating. It’s a great option for anyone looking for specialized care with specific attention to how their mental health interacts with their overall physical health.
How are the appointments different?
Because “therapist” is an umbrella term, there are a number of different kinds of therapy sessions you may take part in. The most common–the one you probably imagine when thinking about therapy–is what we call talk therapy. Meaning you go in, and your treatment plan is talking about your experiences, symptoms, coping mechanisms, etc. Unlike psychiatrists, therapists can’t prescribe medications, however they are able to diagnose & treat mental health disorders.
In therapy sessions, typically you meet for an hour once a week (though not always weekly), with less frequency as your needs change. With a psychiatrist, you typically have a longer intake session as they become familiar with your current needs & medical history. Then from there, appointments are typically very short, just checking in on how things are working for you.
So when is it time to see a psychiatrist ?
It’s different for everyone! And, in fact, many people work with both a therapist and a psychiatrist–who often work together to ensure quality patient care. A few reasons it might be time to choose psychiatry can include:
Stalled progress in talk therapy:
Traditional talk therapy is a great option for people who are looking for longer term support, as well as looking to learn how to identify, address, & explore their own emotions & experiences. It helps clients develop their own coping skills. However, sometimes personal progress can be stalled if underlying medical conditions aren’t treated. Working with a psychiatrist to find things like antidepressants or other mood stabilizers can help improve your daily functioning while allowing you to actually focus on that work that happens in talk therapy.
You’ve already tried your primary care doctor:
Making an appointment with your primary care doctor is a great first step when you’re seeking medications like antidepressants or anti anxiety medications. However, as they are general practitioners, not mental health specialists, they probably don’t have more than a basic suggestion or two. If those medications don’t seem to be helping, then it’s time to ask for a referral to someone who specializes in mental health care and can create a treatment plan unique to you.
Your mental health concerns are disrupting your daily functioning:
If you’re too depressed to do things like get out of bed, feed yourself, etc. then it’s time for something beyond just talk therapy. They will be able to take your mental and physical symptoms into consideration, and help you find a medication that works for you to help get you back to where you have the energy levels to take care of yourself and manage your daily tasks.
If you’re looking for mental health support, our clinicians can help. Get in touch today and we can discuss which therapy is right for you!