Psychologist vs Psychiatrist | What is the Difference?

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist – Overview

Many people believe psychologists and psychiatrists are the same. In reality, there is a significant difference between the two professions. Granted, some aspects 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 starts 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

There are several similarities between psychologists and psychiatrists. Though both treat 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 undergo advanced training in mental health care, completing a doctoral program (PsyD or Ph.D.) in psychology after their undergraduate degree. This contrasts with psychiatrists, who earn a medical degree (MD or DO) necessary for practicing medicine.

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 (MD or DO) specifically trained to diagnose, treat, and manage mental health conditions, including prescribing medications. The major difference between the two is that a psychiatrist has a medical degree. 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. In most states, psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medications; however, in a few jurisdictions, properly trained psychologists may obtain prescribing rights after additional specialized training and certification.

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 graduate school, where they must earn an advanced psychology degree, a doctorate, a master’s, or both.

Psychologists typically complete a post-doctoral program or internship for specialized training and to accumulate the clinical experience necessary for independent practice, often leading to licensure.

In contrast, psychiatrists first need to earn an undergraduate degree before completing four years of medical school. After this, they need to complete three to seven years as interns and residents 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 psychiatric specialties, such as adolescent or geriatric psychiatry.

To clarify, the major difference in education between psychologists and psychiatrists is that psychologists focus on studying human behavior and mental processes, while psychiatrists are trained in general medicine, followed by specialized training in mental health.

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 psychologists and psychiatrists.

Psychologists work with patients to address and treat psychological and behavioral issues through various therapeutic techniques without the ability to prescribe medications. 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 may work in private practice or be employed across a range of settings, including general and psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, prisons, and nursing homes, with a focus on diagnosing mental health conditions and prescribing medication as part of treatment. 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 summary, psychologists specialize in assessing, diagnosing, and treating psychological issues primarily through therapy, while psychiatrists, as medical doctors, diagnose and treat mental health conditions, often combining medication management with therapy. So, you should determine the professional to seek help from, depending on the kind and severity of the mental health issue.

See Also

Endodontist vs Orthodontist

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist


Follow us