A psychiatrist is a doctor who decided to specialize in psychiatry - which on average of an extra 4 years, so 12+yrs of study. They are trained in meds/psychopharmaceuticals and neurological disorders and generally most forms of therapy are used.
A psychologist trains in University and average of 6-8 yrs and usually have their Master's or Phd in Psych.. They are not trained on neurological abnormalities and chemical imbalances - they focus more on therapy, not medical training.
If I were you (in my opinion) you'd be better off seeing a psychiatrist, they've got more education and then you wouldn't have to shuffle back and forth between the two if meds are needed. Their are doctors who've decided to specialize in psychiatric illnesses and/or diagnosing them.
Psychologists can't prescribe meds to you just work with you as far as helping you relax and to learn to manage your thoughts or how to deal with a certain problem.
Psychiatrists prescribe meds but do little if any therapy for you as far as dealing with your thoughts etc. They keep an eye out on how the meds are helping you and if they need to increase or decrease your meds.
The differences are well described by LCC. I beg to differ with Shannon however as all psychiatrists do indeed use therapy, with all patients. It's just that many do not recognise it as therapy you see. What they do is usually prescribe meds and monitor the effects of those meds. How? By talking to you, listening to you and observing you and your feelings, thoughts etc. That is therapy, accurate, spot on therapy directly relating to the specific med you are taking and the dose.
If you looked at any modern psychiatrist's notes you would find endless notes about the patient and how they are at each appointment, changes, relating that to the current med and so on.
It really is just "street talk" that so many have this impression they don't do therapy. They have basically as much training in that, all therapies, as a psychologist and practice too before qualifying.
Always go for a psychiatrist at least initially. Once you are diagnosed and the meds issue is decided you may agree with that doc that talk is best from there on at which time you'd switch to a psychologist.
Regardless though if you find a good psychologist they are better value than an average psychiatrist. It's your relationshipo with them and their ability to not only listen, but hear and acknowledge you, that counts.
The difference has been described very well by whodunnit. Some psychiatrists are qualified therapists themselves. Others have had some experience in their psychiatry training program.
Since there are a number of newer therapy techniques, not all of them are well studied by a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Usually you will have qualified therapists practicing only a few techniques.
These days you will find some Neuro-psychologists, who have received training in identifying neurological deficits. As mentioned rightly by LCC, they do not focus on the medical aspect, but use the knowledge to correlate symptoms and assessments.
I won't say psychiatrists hold an advantage over psychologist, but it is always advisable to see a psychiatrist first. Whodunnit and LCC have left nothing more for me to say.
Abhijeet Deshmukh, MD