Psychiatry Vs Psychology: Which Is Right For You?

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

When discussing mental health, most people immediately leap to two treatments: talk therapy and medication. These therapies are often utilized together, but can also be utilized entirely separately, because they are delivered by different branches of mental health study, and different practitioners altogether. Learning that the two terms are not interchangeable has led many to wonder: which branch of professional intervention is right for me? What if I have symptoms of depression or anxiety? What if I have been diagnosed with a personality disorder? To understand the different needs and preferences for psychiatry and psychology, it is vital to first understand the most pressing differences between the two fields of study and how those differences impact treatment regimens.

What Is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is a subset of the mental health field that is primarily focused on alleviating the symptoms of disorders through more intensive interventions, such as intensive and focused therapy interventions and medication. Psychiatry is perhaps most famously associated with Sigmund Freud, and it is the branch of mental health study that has been responsible for the discovery and implementation of interventions, rather than increasing an understanding of human behavior and motivation.

Psychiatric intervention is often more common in psychiatric disorders that require more than talk therapy in order to modify behavior or thought patterns. These disorders may include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders, all of which typically respond best to psychiatric treatment primarily, and additional treatments secondarily. Psychiatric treatment can also be utilized in less severe conditions, such as anxiety and depressive disorders, but may not always be the first line of treatment, and may come only as a temporary intervention, or an intervention designed to supplement psychotherapy and other talk therapy methods designed to alter perceptions, improve self-esteem and self-talk, and develop healthier coping methods and thought processes.

What Is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior, while clinical psychology is the application of that study. Psychology is the branch of medicine that delivers psychotherapy in order to treat mental health disorders and conditions, and focuses most of its efforts on understanding human behavior. Because the focus of psychology is on understanding how people work and why they behave the way that they do, psychological interventions typically focus on changing motivations and thought patterns, and employ techniques such as talk therapy and exposure therapy to mitigate the symptoms of various mental health disorders and conditions.

Psychology is most commonly utilized to address conditions and disorders that benefit from Cognitive Behavior Therapy and similar interventions that rely on changes to thought processes, behavior patterns, and outlooks. Psychology intervention is common in anxiety and depressive disorders, but may also be used in personality disorders and general mental health concerns, such as low self-esteem. Psychology may also be utilized to target chronic conditions related to underlying trauma and harmed mental health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.

When the Two Converge

Psychology and psychiatry are not mutually exclusive. Plenty of people utilize the practices and approaches unique to each field in tandem to make sure that they are covered from both ends of the mental health profession. Psychology and psychiatry may appear to be at odds in many arenas, but the two can be complementary therapies when paired together, in order to tackle both the psychological and biological or physiological manifestations of a particular disorder. Psychology and psychiatry are most often utilized together when symptoms are more severe, but can also be used together to target symptoms of “lesser” disorders, or disorders with milder symptoms.

Psychiatry Vs Psychology: Which Is Best for You?

Determining which approach is best for you will depend on the goal of your treatment. If your symptoms are severe, and your goal is to mitigate them entirely, psychiatry may be your ideal route (learn more here). If your symptoms are milder, and your goal is to sort through the root causes of disorders, conditions, or general concerns, psychology is likely to be the better option for you. If you are eager to tackle both ends of the spectrum, and receive immediate attention for severe symptoms while uncovering the deeper reasons and habits responsible for the existence of your symptoms, a multi-pronged approach will be better for your treatment.

Although psychiatry and psychology are both mental health professions, they do approach treatment and study a bit differently. Psychiatry is focused on hard treatment, while psychology is often considered a “softer” science, with an emphasis on the more nuanced and potentially subjective nature of human motivation and behavior. Both can successfully be used to treat mental health concerns, and both can be used to improve quality of life over time.

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