Difference between psychology and psychiatry

Written by Rita Aggarwal
Monday, 25 January 2010 23:05

Every person in daily living goes through stress, distress, emotional swings, disturbances, negative thoughts, depression and a variety of confusions that paralyse his or her mental equilibrium and peace. All this is quite normal and expected. Life is never expected to run smoothly without hiccups. But people manage to find solutions and resolutions to their problems and help themselves to get out of their mental bindings. But many times you are stuck and unable to find your way out. This is where the psychologist comes in like a best friend to help you help yourself better. Almost ninety percent of mental disturbances can be treated with psychological counselling and psychotherapy without the help of medicines. It’s also called the talking cure. It may all sound like common sense at times but this organised common sense is based on years of thought, study and research. Only eight to ten percent of mental illnesses need psychiatric help and medicines to treat them.

Psychology is a vast science with immense potential to help people live healthier lives. The contribution of psychology to life has been tremendous and silent. The popular parlance today is loaded with psychological concepts which were the efforts of years of research in psychology. Words like ‘attitude, aptitude, self concept, self image, positive thinking, negative thinking, achievement, motivation, behaviour- modification, unconscious, conscious, subconscious’, etc are all contributions of the science of psychology. Psychology was earlier a part of the discipline of philosophy but later became a separate discipline by itself. It has many schools of thought, theory and practise.

Why has it caught the fancy of people world- wide? Why has psychology become such an important science and art? The human resource development (HRD) programs in industries have vast components of behavioural training that come from the science of psychology. Today even the discourses of religious sages/ saints focus their talks more on psychological aspects of the human mind rather than the spiritual aspects. Perhaps the modern times or ‘kalyug’ has something to do with it as life becomes more complex the person becomes more confused and stressed.  

I cringe when I am introduced as a psychiatrist by friends at public functions and that is pretty often! I am scared that the normal public and especially the young students will run away from me when they hear that! In the public mind there is utter confusion about the two professions as they conveniently merge the two into one and use the terms ‘psychology’ and ‘psychiatry’ interchangeably. Even well educated elites do that to my humour and surprise. But my dear friends, there is a vast difference between the two professionals. The only common point between the two communities is that we deal with the mind and mental aspects of the human experience.

To begin with the first and easiest distinction between the two is in the degree and training of the two professionals. Psychologists take an undergraduate, post graduate and doctoral degree in the subject of psychology whereas psychiatrists go to medical school for graduation and later do a postgraduate degree in psychiatry. Psychologists hence do non drug psychotherapy whereas psychiatrists dispense psychiatric medicines and conduct electroconvulsive therapies.

Psychology has recognised 56 divisions in the developed countries but in India the divisions are few. Psychologists are engaged either in practise or in teaching and research in colleges. The ones in practise may work in all types of settings such as mental health clinics, schools, colleges, industries, community centres, general hospitals, child guidance clinics, rehabilitation centres, and so on. Hence applied psychology is very different from research and teaching psychology. In India clinical psychology is the only applied division of psychology that is developed and hence properly equipped with its training components. The other branches of psychology need to be developed systematically in India but that is a matter of political understanding and will.

We in India are still a faith driven society believing more in stars, destiny, past life and astrology. But not psychology!


+1 #1 2010-03-23 19:02
hello mam this is a very gud article! n i really agree wit u tht indians hav more faith of destiny; stars ! but i m wit u !
i beleive in psychology!
i m a big fan of urs n wanted to contact u ! people say i m too small to consult u!
+4 #2 2010-03-24 09:29
Dear Disha
I am sure you are not smaller than 4 years old! Because I see children as small as that! Thank you for believing in psychology and in my work. Please come and spend free time with me over cofee! I love meeting the youth. Cheers.
+2 #3 2010-03-24 12:42
no actually i can nt call my self small! i m going to b 18 on 31st ! i really want to meet u n after my boards will suerly cum!n Thanks a lot for replying!
+1 #4 2010-08-22 13:11
Hello madam,with all my respect my warm nemaste. I did my graduation in agri. science & my faviorite subject was different phenomena of indiviual & mass psychology.I am regular reader of your column emotions. I have great respect for you & your work
0 #5 2011-04-12 14:31
hello mam.i loved ur article.mam i hv got a doubt.i hv fnshed my BSc nursing as psychology being 1 of my subject in 1st yr.nw im planng 2 do MA in applied psychology n den Phd in clinical psychology.is it possible 2 do?if possible hw far will it help me 2 improve my carrer?plz reply..im confused
0 #6 Shailesh 2011-11-18 13:50
Thanks for sharing such a nice information. Actually because of unawareness (psychologist and psychiatrist) of this thing I went there to psychiatrist and took medicines. Still taking which i never want to take. Now feeling that medicines are hurting me(side effects).
0 #7 Dixika Navin Doifode 2013-03-03 16:56
Hello mam i m student of polytechnic . I am always unable
To handle my stress and this leads to more problem as
I become unable to concentrate on my studies . I
Want to meet u for counselling but my parents wil not allow
Me for this because they say that "u r not mad that u need
Psychologist "
But stil i want to meet you please help me and tell me that
Can we meet without informing my parents
or am i doing wrong ?
0 #8 Md Quadir Ali 2014-05-29 14:00
Hello mam...i hav passed 12th jst now...m confused between psychologist nd psychiatrst..i wanna know their payscales in india.nd plus their scopes....would be grateful if u kindly reply nd solve ma confusion
0 #9 varsha 2015-06-22 19:45
Hello madam am a regular reader of ur column since my sch days now i am BAMS graduate and doing MA in clinical psychology what r best options for my carrier
-1 #10 vaibhav yedke 2015-07-12 21:41
hello mam,good evening,my name is vaibhav.I am 19 years old..from last few months I'm suffering from depression, anxiety, guilt..some times.I got strong feelings of suicide...mam,can u plz take me out of this..I m ready for everything... I hope u can take my matter seriously..