Are psychiatrists helpful for depression?

For severe depression, a psychiatrist will be able to rule out any other medical conditions and prescribe medications that can be tailored to your specific needs.

Updated on March 12, 2023

Who better to treat depression - a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

If you have symptoms of depression and are seeking medical help, it can be difficult to know exactly where to go. Psychiatrists and psychologists both treat patients with depression, but there are differences in their education, experience, and approach to mental health treatment that you should consider before seeing one or the other. If you are wondering who is better at treating patients with depression, a psychiatrist or a psychologist, here's what you need to know:

What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are physicians who have completed medical school and a one-year medical internship and a three-year residency in the evaluation and treatment of mental disorders. Working in private practice, hospitals, university medical centers, prisons, rehabilitation centers and a number of other settings, psychiatrists typically treat patients with mental illnesses requiring medication, including major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. Psychiatrists usually diagnose with psychological tests and individual assessments, and conduct laboratory tests to rule out physical causes of symptoms. Treatment may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both, with medication chosen depending on observations and results.

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists have doctorates in psychology and usually have two years of training, but they are not doctors and cannot prescribe medication for mental disorders. Psychologists work in the same settings as psychiatrists and use talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients understand their symptoms and learn to cope. When treating children, psychologists often use play therapy to gain insight into behaviors and patterns.

Psychologist or psychiatrist to treat depression

Differences in treatment between psychiatrists and psychologists

Both psychiatrists and psychologists rely on psychotherapy - talking to patients about their problems - to diagnose mental illness, but their approach to treatment is different. Psychiatrists take a medical approach, focusing on the biological aspects of mental illness and using medication to treat symptoms. Psychiatrists also look at a patient's full medical history to rule out physical illnesses as a source of mental problems -- for example, thyroid disorders can have similar symptoms to depression. Psychologists, on the other hand, focus more on thinking and behavior and try to track patterns in the patient's life that may be causing or contributing to the symptoms.

Who should you go to for treatment of depression?

The type of mental health professional you go to will depend on many factors, from the severity of your illness to your preferences for treating depression. For severe depression, a psychiatrist will be able to rule out any other illnesses and prescribe medications that can be tailored to your specific needs. However, if you are going through a difficult period and want to better understand your thoughts and behaviors, a psychologist can help you work on your issues on an ongoing basis, and medication may not be necessary. In some cases, it is helpful to see both a psychiatrist and a psychologist, with the psychologist offering regular therapy sessions and the psychiatrist taking medication. Whichever specialist you choose, it is important to make sure that he has extensive experience in treating depression and that his approach and demeanor make you feel comfortable. If you do not find common ground with a psychiatrist or psychologist, it is acceptable to try to see another specialist.

Treatment for depression in San Diego

If you are looking for a psychiatrist or psychologist to diagnose and treat depression, we can help. At Pacific Health Systems in San Diego, we take a holistic approach to diagnosing depression and developing individualized treatment plans for each person.

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