Psychiatrists and Psychologists: What is the difference?

News, Corporate

Here at the clinic we see a lot of new patients who have little experience in the world of mental health.  We are often asked what the difference is between a...

Here at the clinic we see a lot of new patients who have little experience in the world of mental health.  We are often asked what the difference is between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists, and Clinical Psychologists have all been professionally trained to help people with psychological distress or mental illness – but many people struggle to understand the difference between the two professions – we hope this is helpful!


Our medical director, Dr Jane Perera is one of our consultant psychiatrists and is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Medical Association.  Here she explains more about psychiatry.

Psychiatry is a medical speciality, like surgery or paediatrics. Psychiatrists train for 5 years and graduate with a medical degree.  They then do 2 further years of rotation jobs in hospitals, before specialising in psychiatry.

It then takes another 3-4 years to pass the two professional exams of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, after which, they train for a further 3 years in their chosen field, in disciplines such as general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, psychiatry of older adults, addiction psychiatry to name a few.

Unlike psychologists and counsellors, psychiatrists must be medically qualified doctors who have chosen to specialise in psychiatry.

A psychiatrist, as with most doctors, will use a set of diagnostic systems to help identify psychological, social and biological causes of illness or distress.  They will carry out an initial assessment on patients that are referred to them.  This may include physical as well as mental health aspects.

Following the assessment, the psychiatrist will use a biopsychosocial model to understand the problem and arrive at a working diagnosis. They may prescribe medication and / or therapy.  The therapy may be carried out by a clinical psychologist.  The psychiatrist is likely to continue contact with you to assess the impact of the prescribed treatments and to make any adjustments which are appropriate.

Clinical Psychology

Our head of psychological therapies is Dr Martin Carroll.  Martin heads up the team of psychologists at Cardinal Clinic and is a member of the British Psychological Society and the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists.  Here he explains the role of the clinical psychologist.

Clinical psychologists are highly trained and skilled.  A clinical psychologist will have to train within the NHS for a further 3 years after their degrees across a whole myriad of patients; from adults to children and people with learning challenges.

Often, these psychologists will specialise in evidence based areas of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or Psychodynamic Therapy and will work with patients appropriate to their specialism.

Patients can be prescribed therapy by a psychiatrist as part of the treatment for a mental health condition.  Alternatively, patients can be referred to a psychologist directly.

Psychological therapies are often prescribed on a routine basis, with sessions taking place every week or two.  A programme of sessions may last for a period of months, depending on the condition and severity experienced by the patient.

So Psychiatrists and Psychologist Work Together?

Absolutely!  Not only do the psychiatrist and psychologist work together, but both must work with the patient as well.  Treatment is not imposed on the patient, or done to them.  The patient, the psychiatrist and the psychologist work together to make improvements to a patient’s mental health condition.

At the Cardinal Clinic, we strongly believe in the holistic approach of the specialist psychiatrist, specialist clinical psychologist and patient working as a triangle.

Often, you may have an initial consultation with a specialist psychiatrist, who then may prescribe therapy with the best clinical psychologist for the problem – and possibly medication, depending on the diagnoses and patients wishes.

The psychiatrist will be leading the care in this instance, communicating with the patient and therapist to ensure the very best of care and most rapid recovery.


1 in 4 people in England need mental health support*

We’re here to ensure you do not have to face it alone.

If you feel like you need professional help, we’re a private mental health hospital in Windsor with nurses on hand 24 hours a day who provide expert clinical treatment.

You can call Cardinal Clinic on 01753 869755 for confidential help and advice or send us an enquiry.

*McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey.

Read more like this