What's the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist? (2023)

The terms "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" are often used interchangeably to describe anyone who provides therapy services, but the two professions and the services they provide differ in terms of content and scope.In order to decide which professional might be best suited for providing your treatment, it is important to be aware of the differences between these professions.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Key Differences

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are able to prescribe medications, which they do in conjunction with providing psychotherapy, though medical and pharmacological interventions are often their focus.

Though many psychologists hold doctorate degrees, they are not medical doctors, and most cannot prescribe medications. Rather, they solely provide psychotherapy, which may involve cognitive and behavioral interventions.


  • Have a doctorate degree in psychology

  • Provide a variety of talk therapies

  • Offer psychological testing and evaluation

  • Cannot prescribe medications in most cases


(Video) The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Education, Training, and Credentials

While psychologists and psychiatrists may have some overlapping responsibilities, such as conducting psychotherapyand performing research, the background they need to perform them differs.

Requirements for Psychologists

Psychologists receive graduate training in psychology and pursue either aPhD (Doctor of Philosophy)orPsyD (Doctor of Psychology)in clinical orcounseling psychology.

Doctorate programs typically take five to seven years to complete and most states require an additional one- or two-year-long internship in order to gain licensure. Other states require another year or two of supervised practice before granting full licensure.

During their education,those pursuing either a PhD or PsyD doctoral degree take courses in:

  • Personality development
  • Psychological research methods
  • Treatment approaches
  • Psychological theories
  • Cognitive therapies
  • Behavioral therapies

"Psychologist" Is a Protected Title

The title of "psychologist" can only be used by an individual who has completed the required education, training, and state licensure requirements. Informal titles, such as "counselor" or "therapist," are often used as well, but other mental health care professionals, such as licensedsocial workers,can also claim these titles.

(Video) Psychiatry vs. Psychology: What’s the Difference?

The PhD degree option tends to be more research-oriented. Those who earn a PhD in clinical or counseling psychology receive extensive training in research methods and complete a dissertation.

The PsyD degree option, on the other hand, tends to be more practice-oriented. Students who pursue this degree option spend more time learning about and practicing clinical approaches and treatment methods.

Like psychiatrists, psychologists utilize the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose people who are experiencing symptoms of psychological illness. They often use psychological tests such as personality tests, clinical interviews, behavioral assessments, and IQ tests in order to get a better idea of how a client is functioning.

Requirements for Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are physicians who have specific training in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses. In order tobecome a psychiatrist, students first earn an undergraduate degree before they attend medical school and receive an MD.

After finishing their medical training, they also complete an additional four years of residency training in mental health. This residency often involves working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital. They also work with a wide variety of patients, ranging from children to adults, who may have behavioral problems, emotional difficulties, or some sort of psychiatric disorder.

During this medical residency, those specializing in psychiatry receive training and practice in how to diagnose and treat different psychiatric conditions, such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder

Psychiatrists receive training in different psychotherapy treatment modalities, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a popular treatment approach that has been shown to have a high level of effectiveness in the treatment of a wide variety of psychiatric conditions including anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, stress, and anger issues.

Some research suggests that combining CBT and medications may be more effective than medication alone in the treatment of some conditions.

Psychiatrists also receive additional training in a specific area of interest, such as geriatric psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, addictions, and other areas. Some may then choose to specialize further by completing a fellowship in an area like neuropsychiatry, geriatrics, adolescent psychiatry, or psychopharmacology.

Prescriptive Authority: Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists

A second important distinction between the two careers is that psychiatrists canprescribe medications, while, in most states, psychologists cannot. However, there has been a recent push to grant prescribing powers to psychologists.

(Video) What is the difference between a psychiatrist, therapist, and psychologist?

Some states—such as New Mexico and Louisiana—now grant prescribing privileges to medical psychologists holding a post-doctoral master's degree or equivalent in clinical psychopharmacology.

Kevin McGuinness, chairman of the Commissioned Corps Mental Health Functional Advisory Group, explained, "For those interested in acareer in psychologyas a prescriber, it is important to know that certain federal employees and uniformed commissioned officers (Army, Air Force, Public Health Service, Navy, etc.) that are licensed in one state as a medical psychologist may prescribe in any other state to which they are assigned by the federal government."

Do They Offer Different Treatments?

While the two professions are distinct, psychologists and psychiatrists both play important roles in mental health treatment. Very often, they work in collaboration with one another to provide the best possible treatment for an individual.

For example, patients may begin by seeing their primary care physician about the psychological symptoms that they are experiencing. Their doctor may then refer them to a psychologist for further evaluation. That psychologist may observe, assess, and diagnose the patient before referring them to a psychiatrist who can prescribe and monitor medications.

The psychologist and psychiatrist may work together, with the psychologist offering behavioral interventions and the psychiatrist providing or adjusting medication in order to best address the patient's symptoms. The type of approach needed often depends on the severity of the symptoms and the needs and wishes of the patient.

Research suggests that people have different preferences about whether they want psychotherapy alone or in combination with medication. These preferences can affect what professionals they see. It can be helpful to consider how each professional might approach the treatment of specific conditions before deciding which treatment options might be right for you.

For conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and trauma, a psychiatrist may focus on using prescription medications to manage symptoms, whereas a psychologist would concentrate on psychotherapy to help address negative beliefs and encourage behavior changes. It is important to note that a number of factors go into determining which professional might be best equipped to handle treatment, including how comfortable you feel with them.

The expense can also be a factor; some studies have found that combining treatment approaches may also be more cost-effective for patients.

Should You See a Psychologist vs. a Psychiatrist?

So is it better to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist? Both professionals can provide mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, so choosing between the two professionals often depends on what you hope to get out of treatment.

  • If you want to use medication to relieve symptoms of a mental health problem, consider seeing a psychiatrist.
  • If you want to try one-on-on psychotherapy, consider seeing a psychologist.
  • Seeking a psychologist may be helpful if you are interested in addressing relationship issues with your partner or a family member.
  • If you are experiencing symptoms of a serious mental illness, consider seeing a psychiatrist.

Finding a mental health professional that is a good fit is not always a straightforward task. You might start by asking your doctor to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist or ask family and friends who they would recommend. If you decide you want to see a psychiatrist, you will generally need to get a referral from your primary care provider.

(Video) The differences between a therapist, psychiatrist and psychologist

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist Careers

If you are considering a career as a therapist, you will need to determine which career path is best for you. Options you might consider include:

  • Psychologist: This can be a great choice if you are interested in conductingpsychotherapy, administering psychological tests, and conducting research.
  • Psychiatrist: This can be a great choice if you have an interest in medicine and want to be able to prescribe medications to your patients.
  • Social worker or counselor: A career in another human services field such as social work or counseling can be a great choice if you want to help people but aren't interested in spending five to eight years in graduate school. These professionals are also qualified to provide mental health services depending on training and experience. Both social work and counseling typically require two or three years of graduate study.
  • Psychiatric nursing: Psychiatric nursingis another great career option for students interested in medicine. Advanced psychiatric nurses hold a master's degree or higher in psychiatric-mental health nursing and are able to assess patients, diagnose disorders, provide psychotherapy, and prescribe medications.

Life as a Psychologist or Psychiatrist

Work/life balance and work settings are other factors that students should consider when choosing between a career as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Both medical school and graduate school are rigorous and require a significant investment of time, resources, and energy.

A medical residency can be grueling, and students should feel comfortable working in medical settings if they opt to enter the field of psychiatry. After graduating, psychiatrists who choose to work in hospital settings may be required to work long hours or be on-call.

Psychiatrists may work in hospitals, but they may also opt to work in community mental health centers, academic settings, or private practice. Those who choose to work in private practice may find that they have more control over their schedules and hours.

Psychologists also face similar demands. Some psychologists may choose to work in hospital settings, while others can be found in mental health clinics, government agencies, academic settings, and private practice.

Professionals in this field may find that they need to work evening and weekend hours in order to accommodate clients who work during typical business hours. Like psychiatrists, psychologists working in the mental health field may also need to be on-call at times or be able to respond to emergency situations.

Job Outlook for Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists

According to the "Occupational Outlook Handbook" published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the job outlook for psychologists and psychiatrists is expected to grow over the next decade.

The demand for psychiatrists is predicted to rise at a rate of 12% between the years 2019 and 2029, amounting to an increase of around 3,300 jobs. The demand for psychologists is expected to grow at a lower rate of 3% between the years 2019 and 2029, amounting to an increase of about 5,700 more jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for psychologists as of May 2020 was $82,180 per year. The median annual salary for psychiatrists in May 2020 was considerably higher at $217,100.

(Video) Psychiatry vs Psychology - What's the Difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist

A Word From Verywell

Psychologists and psychiatrists represent distinctive professional designations, but both play a critical role in the field of mental health. Key differences between psychologists and psychiatrists come down to educational background and prescribing powers, but both share the important goal of helping patients feel better.

Neither one is "better" than the other, but a patient's needs and specific symptoms may play a role in which type of professional is best equipped to assist with treatment.


What are 3 main differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? ›

Because psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they can prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioral intervention.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist quizlet? ›

What is the primary difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist? A clinical can just assesses clients but a psychiatrist can give out prescriptions to their clients, they have a license to do so.

What can a psychologist do that a psychiatrist can t? ›

Psychiatrists prescribe medication, psychologists can't. Psychiatrists diagnose illness, manage treatment and provide a range of therapies for complex and serious mental illness. Psychologists focus on providing psychotherapy (talk therapy) to help patients.

What are the two main differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? ›

Both psychologists and psychiatrists can provide psychotherapy. However, most psychiatrists treat patients primarily by prescribing medication, while psychologists mainly rely on providing talk and/or behavioral therapy.

Why would you see a psychiatrist over a psychologist? ›

What are the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists? The main difference between the two is that a psychiatrist has trained as a medical doctor and can prescribe medication. A psychologist is not a medical doctor and can't prescribe medication.

Is it better to see a psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety? ›

A psychiatrist is needed whenever someone's anxiety does not allow them to do the things they want to do. When a doctor rules out any medical issues, talking with a professional therapist can help solve someone's anxiety problems.

Can a psychologist diagnose mental illness? ›

Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or another specialty such as counseling or education. They are trained to evaluate a person's mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and testing. They can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.

Which is better to consult with psychiatrist or psychologist? ›

If someone you care about is undergoing lots of stress and shows signs of anxiety and depression, it is best to consult a psychologist. Psychologists will take them through mental therapy sessions to ease their troubled mind. Psychiatrists are best consulted when a person is undergoing severe cases of mental illness.

What is the difference between mental health and psychology? ›

While a master's in psychology emphasizes assessment and tailors treatment to specific mental disorders, a master's in clinical mental health counseling focuses on holistic treatment. Clinical mental health counselors may administer therapeutic tests with the proper education, training, and supervised experience.

Do I need both a psychologist and a psychiatrist? ›

She says that a psychologist is usually the first choice for a patient who needs psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, whether for short-term or long-term treatment. A psychiatrist may be the best referral for patients with more complex issues and who need medication.

What is the main difference between psychologist and therapist? ›

Psychologists can do research, which is a very important contribution academically and clinically, to the profession. A therapist is a broader umbrella term for professionals who are trained—and often licensed—to provide a variety of treatments and rehabilitation for people.

What type of treatment can be provided by a psychiatrist but not most psychologist? ›

A psychiatrist can prescribe medication for the treatment of mental disorders, while a psychologist cannot.

Can a psychiatrist diagnose? ›

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral conditions. They can prescribe medications and other medical treatments.

Whats the Dofference a psychiatrist and a psychologist? ›

A psychiatrist is classed as a medical doctor, they include a physical examination of symptoms in their assessment and are able to prescribe medicine: a psychologist is also a doctor by virtue of their PHD level qualification, but is not medically trained and cannot prescribe.

When should you see a psychologist? ›

If you or a loved one are experiencing distressing emotions, thoughts, or behaviors and having trouble managing them, you might consider different treatment options, including mental health counseling.

Why would a person need a psychiatrist? ›

Therapists work to address and treat conditions such as anxiety and depression. Psychiatrists are also able to help with addictive behaviors, anxiety, suicidal ideations, violent outbursts, insomnia, sleep issues, drug use, alcohol use, poor body image, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and obsessive thoughts.

What does a psychiatrist do for anxiety? ›

In addition to prescribing medications for people with anxiety, psychiatrists are also qualified to provide talk therapy and psychosocial interventions. Common psychotherapies associated with anxiety treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.

What type of psychologist is best for depression? ›

For severe depression, a psychiatrist will be able to rule out any other medical conditions and prescribe medication that can be customized and fine-tuned to your specific needs.

What type of psychologist is best for anxiety? ›

One of our licensed counseling psychologists or clinical psychologists will help you manage your anxiety, learn healthy ways to cope with anxiety symptoms, and take control of your mental health.

How long does it take a psychiatrist to diagnose? ›

The duration of a psychiatric evaluation varies from one person to another. The amount of information needed helps to determine the amount of time the assessment takes. Typically, a psychiatric evaluation lasts for 30 to 90 minutes.

How do you prove mental disability? ›

To prove your mental disability, you will need to have medical documentations, records and notes from any physicians you are seeing to show that your mental disability makes it impossible for you to work full time. The more medical evidence you have, the easier it is to prove your mental disability.

Who decides if you have a mental illness? ›

Doctors diagnose mental disorders based on the signs and symptoms of the individual patient. Doctors use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to assist in diagnosing mental disorders.

Can a psychologist diagnose you with anything? ›

Psychologists are trained to assess and diagnose problems in people's thinking, emotions and behaviour. Yet in practise, many psychologists resist the use of diagnosis and may even be critical of it, seeing it as being within a 'medical paradigm'.

Can a psychiatrist prescribe anxiety medication? ›

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. A psychiatrist can provide both psychotherapy and medication to treat your anxiety disorder.

Is anxiety a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

What are the 4 types of mental illness? ›

mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder) anxiety disorders. personality disorders. psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)

How can you tell the difference between mental illness and mental health? ›

The terms “mental health” and “mental illness” are sometimes interchanged, but they differ in meaning. While mental health refers to anyone's state of mental, emotional well-being, mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions that affect thoughts and behaviors.

Can you be both a psychiatrist and psychologist? ›

Yes but you have to complete the PhD program and medical school plus internship and residency. Some universities have dual MD-PHD programs and you complete both simultaneously.

Which is harder psychiatrist or psychologist? ›

Is psychiatry harder than psychology? The answer to that depends on whether you ask a psychiatrist or a psychologist the question! It's definitely harder to become a psychiatrist, but once in practice, each role has its own unique challenges and benefits.

Can psychologist treat anxiety? ›

Psychologists are trained in diagnosing anxiety disorders and teaching patients healthier, more effective ways to cope. A form of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective at treating anxiety disorders.

What can a psychologist do? ›

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions. Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches to help individuals.

What is better than a psychologist? ›

Psychiatrists. Generally, both psychologists and psychiatrists can make a comfortable living working in various industries and environments. However, according to data from PayScale, psychiatrists have the potential to earn significantly more than psychologists.

When should you see a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist? ›

If the issue you're hoping to address is relationship-focused, say a problem at work or with a family member, you may find what you need from a psychologist. If you are experiencing debilitating mental health symptoms that are interfering with your daily life, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.

Which is best between psychologist and psychiatrist? ›

If someone you care about is undergoing lots of stress and shows signs of anxiety and depression, it is best to consult a psychologist. Psychologists will take them through mental therapy sessions to ease their troubled mind. Psychiatrists are best consulted when a person is undergoing severe cases of mental illness.

At what point is psychiatry better than psychology? ›

If you need mental help for yourself or a friend, then choosing which professional is "better" becomes more difficult and depends on the severity of the situation. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication in addition to offering therapy, whereas most psychologists can only provide non-medical therapy.

Can a psychologist diagnose? ›

Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or another specialty such as counseling or education. They are trained to evaluate a person's mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and testing. They can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.

Can a psychologist prescribe drugs? ›

Unlike other mental health professionals, such as psychologists and counsellors, psychiatrists must be medically qualified doctors who have chosen to specialise in psychiatry. This means they can prescribe medication as well as recommend other forms of treatment.

Do I see a psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety? ›

However, you may need to see a mental health specialist if you have severe anxiety. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. A psychologist and certain other mental health professionals can diagnose anxiety and provide counseling (psychotherapy).

What are the symptoms that you need a psychiatrist? ›

These can include decreased self-care or excessive grooming, odd or eccentric behaviour, social isolation or over socialization, decreased speech or excessive talking, over-familiarity or withdrawn behaviour, etc.

Can a psychiatrist give therapy? ›

A psychiatrist is able to conduct psychotherapy and prescribe medications and other medical treatments. A psychologist usually has an advanced degree, most commonly in clinical psychology, and often has extensive training in research or clinical practice.

Why do doctors recommend psychiatrist? ›

A psychiatrist can provide an accurate diagnosis and suggest treatment plans. They're experts in their field and have up-to-date knowledge on research, medications and other treatment therapies that can help you. Your psychiatrist will work with you to determine a treatment plan that's best for you.

Do you really need a psychiatrist? ›

Reasons to Consult With a Psychiatrist

Even recurring, but temporary, episodes of anxiety, stress, depression, or mood swings might be an indication of a larger mental health condition that might warrant professional treatment.


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