Do I need a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist?
We are often contacted by clients who are not sure if they need a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Much of our role is to understand the details of each client’s particular requirements and provide guidance as to which type of Mental Health Professional, or indeed other type of professional, is most suitable. The information below gives some helpful points to assist you in determining whether you need a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist.
A psychologist’s training is often more suited to providing assessments in relation to most developmental disorders (including largely ‘biological’ ones such as autistic spectrum disorders), personality disorders, family issues and therapeutic treatment methods, whereas a Psychiatrist would be necessary if there were particular issues relating to previous or proposed pharmacological interventions. Both psychologists and psychiatrists (and, indeed, other professionals including non-clinicians, e.g. academics, with appropriate experience and training) can provide specific diagnoses according to both the ICD and DSM frameworks. This is explicitly stated in the DSM-IV. Indeed, there are a number of DSM diagnoses that it would be very difficult for a medical professional to give on their own: Reading Disorder (essentially dyslexia) and Mental Retardation (i.e. learning disability) being examples that require formal psychometric assessments that medics are not generally qualified to give. Psychiatrists are also not automatically qualified to purchase, administer and interpret complex psychological psychometrics (such as the MMPI, possibly the most widely used one) as using them requires training in psychological issues, not psychiatric ones: the publishers do not sell them to people who do not have a clinical psychology or equivalent training (in the same way that non-medics cannot prescribe or give medication).
It is often helpful to have the additional report and view of another professional from a different mental health discipline (e.g. psychiatry) but it is rarely essential in our experience of family court reports and cases. There is always considerable duplication and the instructions given to psychiatrists frequently refer to specifically psychological issues which they may or may not be in a position to give an opinion on. The situation is the same with psychologists and giving diagnoses (i.e. of mental health problems, ‘psychological ‘ or ‘psychiatric’ disorders – which are essentially interchangeable as there is no meaningful distinction in the diagnostic manuals or in general) – some psychologists can give formal diagnoses (according to their training and experience) and some cannot.