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The words psychology and psychiatry come from the Greek derivative “psyche,” which means “mind” or “soul.” Psychology translates to the study (-ology) of the mind, while psychiatry quite literally means healing (-iatreia) of the mind.
The shared root word of these two very different medical professions leads many people to believe they’re interchangeable. Psychologists and psychiatrists do share the same roots and a common goal to help their patients achieve mental, spiritual and overall wellness. However, their approaches and treatment methods are distinct from one another. You might think of psychology and psychiatry as two different branches growing from the same tree.
With that in mind, we’re here with our pediatric psychology expert, Chloe Y. H. Barry, PhD, to answer some frequently asked questions to help us understand key differences between psychology and psychiatry, as well as how both professions work together to care for our children’s minds and spirits.
What Is Psychology?
According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Psychologists are actively involved in studying and understanding mental processes, brain functions and behavior. Simply put, they are experts in how individuals think about things and cope with life’s ups and downs. They also take social and environmental factors into account, and how they impact someone’s perception of the world.
“Psychologists specialize in thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how all of them combined form our personalities and make us who we uniquely are as individuals,” says Dr. Barry.
Psychology is more philosophical and relational than psychiatry, and patients will likely learn coping strategies to practice at home and apply to their daily lives in hopes of experiencing an improved outlook, a better quality of life and more meaningful relationships.
What Do Psychologists Do?
Dr. Barry explains, “Psychologists provide therapeutic services. Sometimes we offer behavioral therapy. Otherwise, we do psychotherapy with our patients, or what we call ‘talk therapy’ to treat emotional issues like stress, anxiety and depression by having the kids process their feelings and thoughts through talking them out, and even through play."
It’s common for a therapist to create a therapeutic environment tailored to each child. “During sessions, the child will talk through the trauma, complete activities or worksheets to help process their feelings, and much more,” explains Dr. Barry.
It’s important for children to have a certain level of trust with their therapist in order to feel safe during their sessions. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to meet with the children parents or guardians for updates on behaviors and how their child is doing at home and school. A parent or guardian might be invited to learn some skills themselves, and/or learn how to better to support their child’s unique needs.
Psychologists are doctors of the mind, but they are not medical doctors such an MD or a DO; therefore, they do not prescribe medication.
What is Psychiatry?
Psychiatry is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as being focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychiatry is a specific brand of medicine that considers the social and biological context of people.
Because psychiatry is field of medicine, it also focuses on the overall functioning and health of the body. The disciplines of pharmacology, anatomy, biology and neurology are also involved in its practice, as well as the chemical effects of medicine.
What Does a Psychiatrist Do?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medication as part of their treatment plans. Psychiatry is more about determining how to best help patients accomplish their mental health goals.
Dr. Barry states, “A psychiatrist will ask about the presenting mental health concerns, and then ask specific questions about the emotions, thoughts and physical symptoms behind what each patient is going through. Based on their feedback, they will diagnose and suggest a treatment plan that can include medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. They can also suggest other therapies and related services."
Since psychiatrists are medical doctors, they’re also interested in your physical health and how it may be affecting your mental health, and vice versa. Follow-ups will be conducted to check in on any prescribed medications and how they affect both your mental and physical well-being.
How Psychologists and Psychiatrists Work Together
Psychologists and psychiatrists often work together with a team approach. A psychiatrist might make an initial assessment and diagnosis, then refer you to a psychologist for weekly talk therapy; then, the two doctors might work in tandem.
A psychiatrist might prescribe and monitor medication while a psychologist tends to the patient’s ability to process feelings and cope more effectively.
Psychiatrists and psychologists also work together in hospitals as part of mental health teams.
What Do Mental Health Professionals Look for in Children?
Dr. Barry explains, “Sometimes, children with mental health concerns present with extreme emotions like sadness, anger or nervousness. In other children, those extreme feelings might be expressed through behaviors. Some children isolate themselves, throw tantrums, become avoidant, aggressive or even defiant. If your child is exhibiting troubling behaviors, or you notice an emotional change, it can be beneficial to speak with a mental health professional.”
Should My Child See a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist?
If you’re wondering whether your child should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, talk to your child’s pediatrician. They can advise you about whether a psychiatrist or a psychologist is right for your child depending on their symptoms and needs.
It will largely depend on their unique situation and the type of treatment needed. It might even be recommended that some children see both.
Leading the Way in Kids’ Mental Health Care
Here at BeAMindleader, we want the best for your child — physically and mentally! To get connected to our mental health care and services, visit BeAMindleader.com or call our Mental Health Navigator at Call407-517-7593.
Your child deserves to experience wholeness in body, mind and spirit.