Mental Health Services

What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in Psychiatry. Today, most clinical Psychiatric practice is focused on diagnosis and prescribing medication. In Kentucky, only a Medical Doctor or a Nurse Practitioner can prescribe medication. Any physician can legally treat any medical problem, and many general practitioners will prescribe lifestyle changes or medication for mild symptoms of anxiety, depression or sleep disturbance. Most will refer patients with treatment-resistant symptoms or more serious conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or Psychotic Disorders to a specialist, that is, a Psychiatrist or a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. More severe anxiety disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder respond best to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but medication can help.

A licensed Clinical or Counseling Psychologist has a doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D. – Doctor of Psychology; Ph.D., Doctor of Philosophy, EdD, Doctorate in Education). Psychologists with the Health Service Provider designation have been trained in psychological assessment and treatment of mental health conditions.

How are Mental Health conditions diagnosed?

In 20 years, there may be a blood chemistry, genetic, or brain imaging test that will identify psychiatric conditions. Aside from rare genetic conditions like Huntington’s Disease, there are no such tests available now. Psychiatric diagnosis is made clinically, that is by observation by a mental health professional and a review of signs and symptoms.

Before a psychiatric diagnosis can be made, an exam must be done to rule out medical conditions. It is important to report all of your symptoms to all of your doctors. Some medical conditions that commonly present with psychiatric symptoms include:

  • Hypothyroidism – a rule out for Depression. Symptoms include lack of energy, excessive sleeping, weight gain and feeling cold.
  • Hyperthyroidism/Graves Disease – symptoms include agitation, insomnia and anxiety.
  • Pernicious Anemia Presents with many non-specific symptoms, including fatigue, loss of appetite, poor concentration, and other symptoms of depression, as well as confusion, loss of balance, and neuropathy.
  • Sleep Disorders Can be a primary disorder (treatable with CBT) or a symptom of a medical condition. Confusion, irritability, and problems with attention and memory are often due to insufficient sleep. If you sleep 8 hours but wake up just as tired as when you turned in, consult your medical provider.