Psychologist vs Psychiatrist | What is the Difference?

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist – Overview

Many people believe psychologists and psychiatrists are one and the same. In reality, there is a significant difference between the two professions. Granted, there are some aspects that overlap between the two, which is why it is important to know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

This article would help you determine where to seek treatment if you or a loved one start suffering from a mental health issue.

Psychologists vs Psychiatrists

Psychologists vs Psychiatrists – Similarities and differences between psychologists and psychiatrists

Psychologists vs Psychiatrists: What Are They?

Several similarities between psychologists and psychiatrists. Though both provide treatment to various patients, they have different education and professional pathways. Let’s find out more about the two.

What Is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is a trained professional skilled at evaluating, diagnosing, and treating several behavioral and psychological issues that disrupt a patient’s life. They treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, addiction, etc.

Psychologists need to undergo advanced training to prepare them for a career in mental health care. These individuals need to graduate from school after earning their undergraduate degree. They can then earn a PsyD or a Ph.D. which is vastly different than a doctoral degree that a psychiatrist receives.

Psychologists usually consult other healthcare providers, including psychiatrists, and provide mental health treatment. Most psychologists tend to get specialized training in a particular area of mental health.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is trained to diagnose and treat mental ailments. The major difference between the two is that a psychiatrist has a medical degree. Hence they are true doctors. Besides this, psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medicines, while psychologists can only advise exercises or activities to treat mental health issues.

Psychiatrists attend medical school before completing their residency and may also take additional training through fellowship to specialize in a specific mental health treatment area.

For instance, a psychiatrist completes a forensic psychiatry fellowship, allowing them to work with law enforcement agencies. Other psychiatrists may complete a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry to help treat mental problems in non-adults.

Differences in Psychological Treatment vs Psychiatric Treatment

There are several basic differences in how psychologists and psychiatrists treat people for mental health problems. Generally, both these professionals use a therapeutic approach as the basic form of treating a mental problem.

For instance, psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other forms of talk therapy.

However, a major difference arises between the two practices when the treatment requires medication. Psychologists are not licensed/authorized to prescribe medicines (except in a handful of states) and need advanced training.

On the other hand, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to a patient, regardless of their location. If you think you need prescription medication to treat a mental health problem, you will need to visit a psychiatrist.

Differences in Psychology Education vs Psychiatry Education

Besides the differences in treatment, there are also notable differences in the type of education a psychologist and a psychiatrist must undergo.

For instance, psychologists need to complete their undergraduate degree, which averages around 4 to 5 years. They can then apply to go graduate school. There, they have to earn an advanced psychology degree, a doctorate, a master’s, or both.

Eventually, psychologists get trained in a specialty through a post-doctoral program or internship. This is necessary to gain the relevant and required clinical experience before working effectively with patients.

In contrast, psychiatrists first need to earn an undergraduate degree before completing 4 years of medical school. After this, they need to complete 3 to 7 years as an intern and resident in psychiatry. Once you have received board certification, you can determine if you want to complete additional specialty training through a fellowship. This step is needed to practice certain types of psychiatric specialties, such as adolescent psychiatry or geriatric psychiatry.

To sum up, the major difference between a psychologist’s and a psychiatrist’s education is that psychologists are mainly focused on studying human behavior and development, while psychologists study human biology and medicine.

Differences in Psychology Treatment vs Psychiatric Treatment

Apart from the differences in education and training, there are also several significant differences in the treatments provided by a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

For instance, a psychologist can work with patients to treat behavioral problems that are disruptive or destructive to their health. These professionals can diagnose behavioral problems through interviews, observations, and surveys. Psychologists generally do not prescribe medication but work in similar medical settings as psychiatrists.

Psychologists can work at private practices, psychiatric hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and rehab centers.

Psychiatrists usually start their own practice but can also be employed in general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, prisons, and nursing homes. Some psychiatrists specialize in rehabilitation too.

Every psychiatrist tends to have their own unique style of practicing their science. Most usually begin with talk therapy and learn more about the problem, while others focus on prescribing medications for treating mental health issues.

When to See a Psychologist vs a Psychiatrist?

If you are suffering from serious mental health problems, which you suspect may require medication, then you should book an appointment with a psychiatrist.

On the other hand, if you are facing a difficult time and want to understand your situation better, it is advisable to consult a psychologist. These professionals can provide extensive support through different types of therapies that can effectively alleviate your mental stress, anxiety, etc.

If you want to ask a few questions or are wondering if a particular mental health provider is right for you, it is strongly recommended to contact them and learn more about their qualifications and the types of treatment they offer.

This way, you can better determine the kind of help you need with the particular type of mental health problem.


In short, a psychologist is trained to study behavior and prescribe therapeutic treatments while a psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who can diagnose and treat severe mental health problems and symptoms using a combination of therapy and prescription medication. So, you should determine the professional to seek help from, depending on the kind and severity of the mental health issue.


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