pcp-vs-psychiatrist

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Primary Care Physician vs Psychiatrist

written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

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reviewed by Ken Cosby M.D. Reviewed by Ken Cosby M.D.
Ken Cosby M.D.

Ken Cosby M.D.

Dr. Ken Cosby received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine (Washington, DC) and completed his research post-doc work at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health including the National Heart Lung Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

November 22, 2020 Read Time - 5 minutes

What is the Difference Between a Primary Care Physician and a Psychiatrist?

A primary care physician (PCP) is a doctor who is trained to diagnose, treat, and provide preventative medical care to individuals and families of all ages.

Primary care physicians may refer patients to specialists when needed to further diagnose or for treatment. Many patients with mental health issues will see a primary care physician first and then will go see a psychiatrist if recommended.

PCPs are well equipped to treat mild to moderate mental illnesses and are more convenient and affordable than psychiatrists. Because of this many patients are more open to seeing PCPs for mental health issues instead of going to see a specialist. 

Psychiatrists are also medical doctors but they specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders of the mind. Psychiatrists are well-informed about depression and other mental health illnesses as they are mental-health specialists.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

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  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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When to See a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists specialize in treating mental health conditions. Some mental health conditions that psychiatrists treat include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Addiction disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia

Psychiatrists specialize in mental health and are seen as experts in their field. If mental health treatment cannot be provided by primary care physicians, such patients are often referred to see a psychiatrist.

Here’s when to see a psychiatrist:

  • If you are referred by a PCP
  • If you have a complicated or severe mental illness
  • If you are struggling to find the right mental health medication for you
  • If you want a second opinion on a mental health diagnosis and care plan

When to See a Primary Care Physician

Primary care physicians treat overall health and wellness, they practice general medicine. PCPs are known mostly as preventative care management experts.

If you are looking for mental health treatment, PCPs are a great place to start. They can recommend a treatment plan and prescribe medication, or refer you to a psychiatrist for further treatment.

Primary care providers can treat mild to moderate cases of anxiety and depression but will often refer patients with severe depression or anxiety to a psychiatrist.

Some health conditions that primary care physicians treat include:

  • Anxiety/Depression
  • Asthma
  • Back pain
  • Bronchitis
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Constipation
  • Cough/influenza
  • Diabetes
  • Earaches
  • Headaches
  • High cholesterol
  • Laryngitis
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Rashes
  • Pneumonia
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Shingles
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fever
  • Heart disease
  • Heartburn
  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Minor aches and pains
  • Women’s health (pap smear, vaginal infections, birth control)
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disorders

Patients with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder will also be referred to a psychiatrist for medication management. However, mental health patients can still be treated by primary care physicians for other non-mental health-related illnesses. 

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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When to See a Therapist

Therapists are licensed professionals that help people manage and overcome problems with themselves, family members, and other relationships.

Therapists encourage patients to discuss their emotions and experiences, help guide patient’s decisions, give tools to help manage mental disorders, refer patients to support groups, and help patients adjust their reactions to life and how to handle difficulties. 

If you are unable to manage your emotions, cannot express your emotions in a clear, calm manner, or are unable to keep or form relationships, you may benefit from seeing a therapist.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are taking medication, it is often recommended that you seek therapy in conjunction with your other treatment regimen for the fastest recovery.


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Is Mental Health Medication Right for Me?

Taking prescription medication for mental health is a big step. If you have exhausted other non-pharmacological outlets or are in an acute mental health crisis, medication may be right for you.

Medication can be temporary or lifelong, depending on your diagnosis and progress you have made with the illness. 

If you are interested in learning more about if mental health medication is right for you, speak with your primary care physician. You and your provider will determine the right medication for you to take and whether or not you should see a psychiatrist.

If one medication does not work for you tell your doctor and they can prescribe a different medication.

Keep in mind that depression medication can take 4-6 weeks to feel the effects, you will not feel instant relief from the medication, which can be difficult for some. Be patient with your care plan and keep in close contact with your prescribing doctor as you start your new medication.

See a Primary Care Physician Online

Do not wait for your depression to get better on its own. The sooner you seek treatment, whether that’s medication or therapy, the easier your path to recovery will be.

If you have symptoms of depression, you can make an online appointment with a board-certified PlushCare doctor today. Although it may seem daunting, calling for help is the biggest step you can take in your mental health journey.

With online services like PlushCare, getting depression medication is simple. Our PCPs can prescribe antidepressants and other medications not prescribed as controlled substances. Same-day appointments are available and 97% of conditions are successfully treated on the first visit.

If the doctor is unable to help you, your appointment is free and you will get a referral to a psychiatrist for further treatment.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Read More About Primary Care Physicians

Note: PlushCare does not have online psychiatrists at this time. That said, our primary care physicians are able to prescribe mental health medications such as antidepressants, and if necessary can provide you with a referral to a psychiatrist.

Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

ncbi.gov. What Psychiatry Means to Us. Accessed March 1, 2021 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3190449/

psychiatry.org. What is a Psychiatrist? Accessed March 1, 2021 https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-psychiatry-menu

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