What is the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

Many people are confused between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. In fact, many use these terms interchangeably, but they are different from each other. Since they usually work together for the well-being of the patient, their job descriptions overlap. However, there are some crucial differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The most critical is the nature of treatment within the two professions.

If you have mental health concerns, you need to seek help. However, the question is, where do you go? How would you be able to know what type of doctor you need to talk to? Do you need a psychiatrist or a psychologist? If you feel the same way, no worries, as a lot of people do, and we’re here to help you. The easiest way to differentiate them is to understand that psychiatrists are doctors while psychologists are not. There are also many types of psychiatrists, and you can visit BetterHelp.com to learn more about them.

If you are looking for a more elaborate explanation of the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, read on as we will explain further.

What Are Their Differences?

There are three main differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. First, as we’ve mentioned earlier, is that psychiatrists are medical doctors while psychologists are not. Second, psychiatrists can prescribe medication while psychologists can’t. Lastly, psychiatrists can diagnose illness, manage treatment, and provide different therapies for complex and serious mental illness, while psychologists focus on providing psychotherapy or talk therapy to help patients.

Both a psychiatrist and a psychologist can understand how the brain works, the people’s emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Both of them can also treat mental illness with psychological treatments. However, psychiatrists attend medical school, and they become medical doctors before undergoing specialist training in mental health. Since they are doctors, they are able to understand the links between mental and physical problems. With this, they can also prescribe medications to patients.

The Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist in Training

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists, as mentioned above, are medical doctors. It means that they have at least 11 years of training or even more. Their first medical degree is taken at a university. After that, they train as a general doctor for 1 to 2 years. Then, they spend at least 5 years of training for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists spend at least 6 years training in a university and in supervised experience. They may also hold a Master or Doctorate level qualification in Psychology. If a psychologist has a Doctorate or Ph.D., he or she can call themselves “Dr,” but he or she is not a medical doctor. A clinical psychologist undergoes special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

The Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist in Providing Treatments

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists can give different treatments depending on the problem and what will work best for the patient. These can include medications, general medical care, psychological treatments, and as well as brain stimulation therapies like electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists are only focused on giving psychological treatments like psychotherapy or talking therapy to clients.

Conditions Treated by a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists usually treat people who have medical, psychological, and social needs. These are individuals who have complex conditions, such as schizophrenia, severe depression, and bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists also check on people who have attempted suicide or those who have suicidal thoughts.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists treat people who have conditions that can be helped effectively with psychological treatments. Some of these may include learning difficulties, behavioral problems, mild depression, and anxiety.

Do a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist Work Together?

If you are wondering if a psychiatrist and a psychologist work together, the answer is yes. Most of the time, they work together. For example, a psychiatrist can make an initial assessment and diagnosis. After that, he or she can refer you to a psychologist for ongoing psychological treatment or talking therapy.

It can also work the other way around. A psychologist may refer a patient to a psychiatrist who can prescribe and monitor medication. They work in tandem to treat the symptoms of a patient from both a behavioral and clinical perspective. Both psychiatrists and psychologists also work together in hospitals, and they are part of mental health teams.


The areas of psychiatry and psychology are both vital when it comes to studying and developing treatments for improving mental and emotional health. Even though they have major differences, both of them share a common goal, which is to help people feel better. And if you are still unsure of who you should see, the best way to find out is by talking to your general physician. We hope the information we shared here helped you in further understanding the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist.