Much as their job roles overlap, a clinical psychiatrist and psychologist are not two sides of the same coin. Psychiatry is a medical profession, for which a medical degree along with a specialisation in the field of psychiatry is necessary to be qualified as a psychiatrist.
“A psychiatrist is qualified to diagnose as well as treat psychiatric disorders, primarily through the prescription of psychiatric medications,” says Dr Samir Parikh, consultant psychiatrist and director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis National Mental Health Program, Fortis Healthcare.
Psychology, on the other hand, is an application of various psychological theories and principles, within various fields of mental health.
“A clinical psychologist needs to engage in psychotherapy (a structured form of counselling) to often assist a psychiatrist in the accurate diagnosis of mental illnesses, ranging from anxiety disorders, depression, to obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc through IQ or personality tests,” says Samindara Sawant, a clinical psychologist who is founder member and director, Disha Counselling Centre.
She adds, “Psychologists may also engage in cognitive therapy to help the client identify faulty thought processes; or they might provide rational emotive behaviour therapy to address clients’ irrational beliefs.”
Since the treatment of most psychiatric disorders typically includes a combination of both psychiatric medications as well as psychotherapeutic interventions, the roles of a psychiatrist and psychologist are inevitably interdependent.
“It works best for the client when both psychiatrists and psychologists work collaboratively. Extreme mental disorders may require medication as the first line of treatment before psychotherapy takes over. Conversely, there are cases when the severity of the mental illness is relatively less, in which case, behavioral treatment would best address the issue,” Sawant says.
To be qualified as a psychiatrist in India, an MBBS degree followed by an MD specialising in Psychiatry is sufficient to obtain a license from the Medical Council of India (MCI) to practice as a psychiatrist.
On the other hand, to become a clinical psychologist, one can pursue a bachelor’s degree (BA) in Psychology followed by a Master’s with specialisation in counselling psychology/clinical psychology/industrial psychology/child psychology etc. “While in Mumbai, one is permitted to practise as a clinical psychologist on completion of the master’s course, elsewhere, psychologists are required to complete an MPhil or PhD in Clinical Psychology. They have to undergo field work and placement in the second year of their Master’s programme which makes it mandatory for them to work in mental hospitals, private clinics or counselling centres,” says Sawant.
Regardless of being a psychologist or a psychiatrist, recent statistics have shown an almost 800% shortage of mental health professionals. This, coupled with the growing prevalence of mental illness in the contemporary world, have pointed to the growing need for both psychologists and psychiatrists. “A combination of growing awareness about mental health issues and its advocacy in society is fuelling the demand for both professionals,” Sawant adds.