If you have symptoms of depression and you’re seeking medical help, it might 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 should be taken into consideration before committing to a doctor. If you’re wondering whether a psychiatrist or psychologist is better for patients with depression, here’s what you need to know:

What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who graduated from medical school, along with completing a year of medical internship and three years of residency in the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders. Working in private practices, hospitals, university medical centers, prisons, rehabilitation centers, and a variety of other venues, psychiatrists usually treat patients with mental health conditions that require medication, including major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizophrenia. Psychiatrists typically diagnose using psychological tests and one-on-one evaluations, and they also run lab tests to rule out any physical cause for symptoms. Treatment can include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both, and medication will be fine-tuned according to observations and results. 

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists have a doctoral degree in the area of psychology and usually complete a two-year internship, but they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication for mental health disorders. Psychologists work in many of the same settings as psychiatrists, and employ talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients understand their symptoms and learn how to manage them. When treating children, psychologists often use play therapy to gain insight by observing behaviors and patterns.

Psychologist or psychiatrist for depression

Differences in treatment between psychiatrists and psychologists

Both psychiatrists and psychologists rely on psychotherapy—talking with patients about their problems—to help diagnose mental health conditions, but the way they approach treatment differs. Psychiatrists take a medical approach, focusing on the biological aspects of mental illness and using medication to help treat symptoms. Psychiatrists also consider a patient’s full medical history to rule out physical conditions as the source of mental health issues—for example, thyroid conditions can have similar symptoms as depression. Psychologists, on the other hand,  focus more on thought and behavior, and attempt to track patterns in the patient’s life that might cause or contribute to their symptoms.

Who should you see to treat your depression?

The type of mental health professional you see will depend on a variety of factors, from the severity of your illness to your depression treatment preferences. For severe depression, a psychiatrist will be able to rule out any other medical conditions and prescribe medication that can be customized and fine-tuned to your specific needs. However, if you’re going through a difficult time and you want to work on better understanding your thoughts and behaviors, a psychologist can help you work on issues on an ongoing basis, and medication might not be necessary. In some cases, seeing both a psychiatrist and psychologist is helpful, with the psychologist offering regular therapy sessions while the psychiatrist manages medications. Whichever specialist you choose, it’s important to make sure they have extensive experience treating depression and an approach and manner that makes you feel comfortable. If you don’t “click” with a psychiatrist or psychologist, it’s perfectly acceptable to try someone else until you do.

Treatment for depression in San Diego

Whether you’re looking for a psychiatrist or psychologist to diagnose and treat your depression, we can help. At Pacific Health Systems in San Diego, we take a holistic approach to diagnosing depression and design customized treatment plans for each individual.  For more information on our diverse range of treatment options for depression or to set up a consultation, fill out our contact form or call us at (619) 267-9257