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First Timers

First Timers
For the first timers:

Often people ask do I need a psychiatrist or a psychologist. So here we shall try to understand the basic difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.


A psychiatrist is a medically qualified practitioner who will have spent 5 and a half years training as a doctor [MBBS]. Following this, he/she further trains for three years to specialize in psychiatry [MD].

What are a psychiatrist’s special skills?

All psychiatrists will learn how to:

  • Assess a person’s state of mind.
  • To understand and differentiate normal from abnormal behavior.
  • To evaluate and treat dysfunctions in normal individuals arising secondary to stress like professional and relationship problems.
  • Will learn to apply the recent know-how in the field of neuroscience in understanding human behavior and integrating it with the information from the patient's personal, social and occupational background to arrive at a plausible cause for the illness.
  • Diagnose a psychological illness.
  • Use various forms of psychological interventions and medications in the treatment.


Psychologists have a degree in psychology [BA/MA]. Clinical psychologists are not usually medically trained but have undergone a long and robust training following their psychology degree. They are primarily concerned with the study of how people think, act, react, and interact.

They can train as a psychotherapist and also counsel people.

However, they are not trained to diagnose a medical illness and cannot use medications.


A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health professional who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy. As well as listening and discussing important issues with you, the psychotherapist can suggest strategies for resolving problems and, if necessary, help you change your attitudes and behavior.

Whom should I see for my problem?

First, it would be good to define your problems or reasons for seeking help on the following lines:

  • Do I have severe disturbances in my sleep and appetite, i.e., take more than 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, have light or disturbed sleep, or feel non-refreshed on waking up along with decreased or increased appetite?
  • Do I have problems at work with motivation, concentration, and relationship with colleagues which makes me feel low or sad?
  • Is the person suicidal or harming others [homicidal]?
  • Do you or the patient find it difficult to trust people, or the person has odd beliefs or suspicions about others?

If the answer to the above is yes, then you should definitely consult a psychiatrist.

For others, you can have a word with your family doctor or GP and can then decide whom to see.

I would usually recommend a consultation first with the psychiatrist because as we have seen above a psychiatrist who has been a trained doctor is well placed to pick up any signs of illness or pathology at the earliest.