What is the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Category: Psychology

This is one of the most frequently asked questions. I have found over the past 20+ years in practice that there is often a great deal of confusion about the differences in the general public, even from insurers, other health practitioners and professions.

Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists are both mental health specialists with expertise in assessing and treating mental health issues. There are important differences between the type of training they receive, and in the focus and treatment approaches they can provide.

Psychology is a discipline that focuses on the assessment, understanding and treatment of the mind and human behaviours. Psychologists as a general rule in Ontario will have their PhD in Clinical Psychology which often entails 11 years of post-secondary education and training. Psychologists focus on assessing and treating emotional and social difficulties, and in Canada, they are not currently able to prescribe medications. The therapy focus is on cognitive and behavioural changes that people can make to change their situation and thinking patterns. The focus is on assessment, understanding and therapy rather than on medication. In many situations, Psychologists can work in tandem with psychiatrists to refer patients for prescriptions and medication review and changes.

Psychiatrists practice as medical doctors and use their clinical experience to treat mental disorders using medication primarily, and tend to view issues with depression or anxiety as some type of chemical imbalance. While there are some Psychiatrists that provide additional psychotherapy supports, most of my clients in this region have found that Psychiatrists are able to provide medication review and support only. Psychiatry is an OHIP funded resource that requires a referral from a family physician and may continue over time as a support with
medication management as needed.

There are a number of other sources of supports in our community. Other regulated health practitioners to support emotional and mental distress include Social Workers, Psychotherapists and Counsellors, all of whom have differing levels of education, experience and training.