Psychologists and psychiatrists are professionals who work in the field of mental health. People often confuse their roles or mix them up with other mental health professionals such as psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, or mental health counselors. There are many variations of mental health professionals that require several different educational paths and use many treatment methods. Psychologists must attain a Ph.D. in psychology and focus primarily on doing research, teaching on a college level, and maintaining private counseling practices. They can administer testing for many cognitive and emotional assessments as well. Prescription privileges were made available to psychologists in New Mexico in 2002, and various psychologist groups are working to gain such privileges in other states. A psychiatrist is actually a medical doctor who specializes in mental disorders. Psychiatrists are highly trained in pharmacological treatments for mental health and are the primary mental health professionals to prescribe medications. General practitioners (medical doctors) and nurse practitioners are also able to prescribe psychological medications.
When people feel the need for services such as testing for dyslexia or counseling, they may consider going to a psychologist. Typically, people see a psychologist or other counseling professional before they are referred to a psychiatrist. Some psychiatrists practice counseling, but others only administer and monitor medications while partnering with other professionals who perform the therapy. As in any vocation, some psychologists/psychiatrists will be Christians, and others will not.
Christians usually want to know how the Bible relates to these professions. The truth is that neither psychology nor psychiatry is wrong in a sinful sense. They both serve valid and helpful purposes. None of the mental health professionals have the ability to fully understand how God made man, how the mind works, why we feel and act the way we do. While there is an abundance of worldly, man-centered theory about mental and emotional issues, there are also many godly people involved in these professions seeking to understand the human mind from a biblical perspective. For Christians, it is best to seek a professional who professes to be a believer, can express knowledge of Scripture, and exhibits godly character. Any counsel we receive must be filtered through Scripture so that, as with everything in the world, we can discern what is true and what is false.
Seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist is not wrong. However, mental health professionals come from many different beliefs and backgrounds. Even Christian psychologists and psychiatrists will be unable to give perfect answers, or they may be weak in some area of their biblical knowledge. Remember that the Word of God is our first answer to all that ails us. Arming ourselves with the truth is essential to discerning what is helpful and what is leading us astray (Ephesians 6:11-17; 1 Corinthians 2:15-16). Every believer is personally responsible for studying the Bible for his own personal growth and discernment. The Holy Spirit will use the Word to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate goal for all Christians (Ephesians 5:1-2; Colossians 3:3).