Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist: Your go-to for Depression?

By Wasim Kakroo

EVERYONE experiences sad feelings sometimes, but depression is different. It lasts for a long time and can lead to a number of other symptoms. Clinical depression, also called major depression, can have a range of ongoing symptoms. While any of these symptoms can occur at any moment, a mental health professional (a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist) will only diagnose depression if a specific cluster of symptoms appears and persists for two weeks or longer.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

Feelings of sadness, irritability, hopelessness, or guilt, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, Feeling tired or restless, preferring Isolation, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much and significant weight gain or weight loss.

If you experience depression symptoms and are looking for professional help, it can be tough to know where to start. Main mental health professionals i.e., psychiatrists and clinical Psychologists both treat patients with depression but there are distinctions in their education, experience, and approach to various mental health issues and their treatment that should be considered before choosing a professional.

Here's what you need to know if you're wondering if a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist is better for patients with depression:

Who is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who have done MBBS, completed a year of medical internship, and three years of residency in the assessment and treatment of mental health diseases. Psychiatrists typically treat patients with mental health conditions that require medication, such as moderate to severe levels of mental health issues such as major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia, in private practises, hospitals, university medical centres, prisons, rehabilitation centres, and a variety of other settings.

Who is a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychologists in India are required to hold a masters degree in psychology and then typically undergo a two-year M.phil programme in an Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) registered institute in hospital based settings, but they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications for mental health conditions. Clinical psychologists often receive some training in understanding how the body, particularly the brain, influences behaviour, although this is not their specialisation. For clinical psychologists, the emphasis is on mental processes such as cognition (thoughts), mood and emotion, and behaviour, as well as comprehending people in the context of their surroundings, particularly in their interpersonal relationships.

Clinical psychologists focus on how to change the approach of an individual towards their thoughts and hence help them change their behavior to improve functioning, or how to bring out and clarify an individual's deeper or repressed thoughts and feelings for better understanding and awareness. Clinical Psychologists, like psychiatrists, work in many of the same settings and use talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and many other therapeutic modules to assist patients understand their symptoms and learn how to control them. Their curriculum includes understanding biological, psychological, cognitive and social influences on behavior, as well as training in psychological assessment and diagnosis. Practicing clinical psychologists use a number of therapeutic approaches to help patients in dealing with stress, healing from trauma, and managing the symptoms of mental health issues. When treating children, psychologists frequently employ play therapy to acquire insight through observation of behaviors and patterns.

Should you first consult a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist?

Seeking treatment for those who are struggling with their mental health is a vital step toward living a meaningful life. However, knowing which type of practitioner will deliver the most successful treatment is not always straightforward. The good news is that experienced mental health professionals have the essential skills and understanding to assist clients in making an informed decision about the course of their therapy. Patients are frequently referred to one another by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. But, in general, here are some things to think about before deciding whether to see a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist first.

A clinical psychologist may be a suitable choice if you want to spend time talking about and working through an issue in a one-on-one setting.

If you want to take psychiatric medicine for symptomatic relief from a mental health problem, you should first consult with a psychiatrist.

If the issue you want to address is one of relationships, such as a problem at work or with a family member, a clinical psychologist may be able to help.

A psychiatrist may be an excellent place to start with if you are having debilitating mental health symptoms that are interfering with your everyday life.

Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, as previously said, are both concerned with assisting people in optimising their mental wellness, and both are frequently trained in a range of treatment approaches. You don't have to know everything about these two professionals before you ask for assistance. The greatest place to begin is with a practitioner with whom you feel at ease. They will listen to your reasons for seeking help, assess your symptoms, try to understand your medical, psychiatric, and family history, and assist you in deciding on a next step. Also, keep in mind that many patients visit more than one mental health practitioner before finding the ideal fit.

Who should you see for treating your depression?

The type of mental health expert you see will be determined by a number of factors, including the severity of your disease and your choices for depression treatment. A psychiatrist will be able to rule out any other medical disorders and provide medicine that can be customized and fine-tuned to your unique needs if you have severe depression. If you are going through a difficult period and want to focus on better understanding of your thoughts and behaviors, a clinical psychologist can help you with it and medication may not be necessary. A clinical psychologist can work on the sources of emotional disturbance in your life by trying to analyze the major parts of your life such as childhood experiences, adolescence, relationship with key figures in life, satisfaction with job and sexual life, the deficits in meaning in life and the influence of personality issues on your depression. All these areas are very important to understand in order to have a proper psychotherapeutic plan for effective recovery from depression. However in cases with severity of depression beyond moderate levels that affects a person’s daily functioning significantly, combined treatment including pharmacotherapy as well as psychotherapy is considered a best approach for recovery.


The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) at Kashmir Life Line and can be reached at [email protected]

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