Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Differences & How to Choose Providers

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Differences & How to Choose Providers

If you’ve been looking into potential mental health solutions, especially for your employees, you may be wondering about the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists or what types of insurance plans might cover each one. 

While psychiatrists and psychologists often do similar things and work in similar places, not every coverage plan covers both—some cover just one, and some plans cover neither. Let’s take a look at what differentiates a psychologist and psychiatrist, as well coverage plans for both services from care providers. 

All About Psychologists

As far as education goes, psychologists are the “juniors” when compared to psychiatrists. Practicing psychologists need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to work, and they usually use non-drug treatments to address mental disorders and health conditions. Psychologists typically go through graduate school training in a branch of psychology, though you may see psychologists in research and consulting positions, too. 

Typically, psychologists can’t prescribe medication to their patients. If a patient requires treatment in the form of medication, they have to refer them to a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, primary care physician, or nurse practitioner. 

Generally, psychologists focus on the way that we think, feel, and behave. Some psychologists may study the behaviours of animals as well. While psychologists do study mental health, that is not all that they study—not all psychologists work in the treatment or management of human mental health issues. 

As the term “psychology” implies, a practicing psychologist will normally use psychotherapy and other psychological treatments, such as talk therapy, to manage mental and behavioural problems. They are also experienced in using psychological tests and research to diagnose mental illness and behavioural anomalies. 

The main advantage of a psychologist is their ability to specialize. While psychiatrists almost exclusively specialize in human mental health conditions, psychologists can branch into a variety of different brain-related areas, such as:

  • Mental rehabilitation and adjustment
  • The relationships between physical and mental health conditions
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Social and cultural behaviours and related phenomena
  • Neurological and genetic disorders relating to the brain

As such, specialized psychologists can delve into some areas of mental health that general psychiatrists do not, and they also can offer some treatment options that psychiatrists may not, such as play therapy for children.

All About Psychiatrists

Psychiatry is a branch of science that specifically studies human mental health and the treatment of various mental health conditions. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who study human mental health conditions, though they can sometimes specialize further, just like psychologists. 

Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists must obtain a doctoral degree, such as an MD or DO, to be fully qualified. Since psychiatrists can prescribe medications, they can treat serious mental health problems such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. Psychiatrists can also practice some psychotherapy techniques as well. 

Psychiatrists may specialize in a few different areas of study if they desire, such as:

  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Addiction management and medicine
  • Child psychiatry
  • Sleep medicine
  • Pain management and medicine

Psychiatrists also have different certification rules that they must follow before they can practice in Canada. This is necessary, as psychiatrists can choose to dispense controlled substances and prescription medications to their patients, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives, stimulants, and more. 

In addition to medications, psychiatrists can also administer different types of experimental and emerging treatments, such as electrotherapy. Of course, before administering any treatment, they must evaluate the mental health of their patients and consider any long-term effects and prospects of the treatment in question. 

In essence, the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists boils down to how they treat problems. While a psychologist studies the mind and how it works, a psychiatrist studies the human brain and how it affects the person as a whole. Psychiatrists can also study and treat conditions that affect the mind and the body, rather than just the mind. 

The term of the treatment in question can be a factor as well. While the goal of any therapy is to eventually not need it anymore, psychotherapy is often a long-term solution for many patients. 

Some mental health patients can stay on the medications required for proper management of their mental health conditions with great success, but this is often not as healthy or as effective as permanent management through behavioural solutions. 

The goal of many psychiatrists is to keep their patients on mood-altering medications for as little time as possible. However, some patients do need permanent help through these substances to live a normal and fulfilling life, especially when other psychotherapy options do not work.

Relationships Between Patients and Mental Health Professionals

One thing that surpasses the importance of psychologist vs. psychiatrist that many people tend to overlook is the relationship between a mental health professional and their client. After all, a person’s medical history is deeply private and personal, and this is even more true of mental health conditions, which can make many people feel inferior or alone. 

With the comprehensive range of options available today, there is no reason for patients to feel this way. Even those who feel isolated at home due to the effects of COVID-19 can consider options that will allow them to explore online therapy options. While a psychologist or psychiatrist may need to see the patient in-person to begin some treatment options, many professionals will offer online video conferencing sessions for those who cannot (or prefer not to) attend a physical meeting. 

Cultivating trust and kinship with a psychiatrist or psychologist is extremely important to treatment success, regardless of whether it is done in person or through a video call. After all, a patient’s mental health care provider needs to know which treatment options work, which don’t work, and how different treatments make their patients feel. 

Just like a therapist or counsellor, a psychiatrist or psychologist is meant to be a mental health confidant. This is part of the reason why some family physicians and nurses choose to pursue mental health training: so that they can help the patients and families who already trust and confide in them.

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Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is one of the most versatile tools in any psychologist’s arsenal (though don’t forget that some psychiatrists practice talk therapy as well). Talk therapy involves sitting down with a therapist, “unloading” any negative thoughts and feelings and talking about how current treatments have been working. 

While it may sound simple, it’s one of the most powerful tools that a psychologist can use to get to know their patients better and build a strong sense of trust.

Talk therapy can take many forms, and not just in the form of one-on-one time with a psychologist. For example, family and couples therapy sessions are common, as are group sessions in certain environments. 

How Mental Health Coverage Works in Canada

Mental health care coverage in Canada can be a bit complicated, as Canadian public health care very rarely covers mental health costs. If you want psychology or psychiatry coverage for your business, you may need to look into extended coverage options. 

In the age of COVID-19, more and more employers are concerned for the well-being and health of their employees. Regardless of whether it’s for mental or physical ailments, if you believe your business could use a group benefits plan or another coverage option that provides more than basic government coverage, you can find the best rates right here at Group Enroll. We make it easy to compare quotes and explore coverage options from the best insurance companies in the nation. 

You’ll be happy to know that many Extended Health Care Benefits packages do cover visits with psychologists. However, if you’re looking for more extensive or flexible coverage, one of the best ways to cover mental-health-related expenses here in Canada is by investing in an HCSA (Health Care Spending Account).

To get started, just fill out our quick quote form. We can help you find the most comprehensive group benefit plan for your business at the lowest possible price. You can also email our office at [email protected] if you have any questions about mental health coverage in Canada, group insurance, or anything else! We’re always happy to help. Our main office is located at 10 Great Gulf Drive, Unit 5, Vaughan, ON, L4K 0K7.

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