Difference between psychology and psychiatry

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!

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