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Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist

Learn more about the difference between a psychiatrist vs. psychologist and which option is the best fit for your treatment.

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Understanding Psychology and Psychiatry

When looking for mental health treatment, it’s important to understand the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. A psychiatrist or psychologist can both help in many ways, although they do have different specialties and educational backgrounds, so it’s important to choose the right fit for your needs.

Who Is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is a trained and licensed mental health professional. Psychologists typically have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology. Psychologists have a wide range of knowledge and can help treat a number of different mental health conditions.1

Can a Psychologist Prescribe Medication?

A psychologist is not licensed to prescribe medication. If you are working with a psychologist and they believe you may require medication for your condition, they will likely refer you to a doctor or a psychiatrist who can provide further analysis to determine if medication is necessary.

Who Is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical professionals who specialize in the prevention and treatment of mental health issues. Psychiatrists go through years of medical school and training, so they have a vast amount of knowledge in medical and mental health treatment.2

Are Psychiatrists Medical Doctors?

Psychiatrists are specialized medical doctors and attend medical school to receive education and training. Due to their medical background, psychiatrists can often provide more intensive and comprehensive treatment options for those who struggle with severe mental health issues.

Can Psychiatrists Diagnose?

Psychiatrists are licensed and trained to diagnose mental health conditions, along with other underlying health conditions that someone may be struggling with. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medications for mental health treatment if they believe it is medically necessary and will benefit the client’s treatment.

Differences Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists

When choosing between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, it’s important to understand the difference between the two. Differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist include their educational background, treatments provided, and conditions they can treat.


When comparing psychiatrist vs. psychologist, one of the main differences is their educational background. Psychologists typically possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology. If someone wants to become a clinical psychologist, they will have to get a Ph.D. in psychology. Getting a Ph.D. in psychology typically takes seven to eight years.

On the other hand, psychiatrists are medical doctors who attend twelve years of higher-level education, which includes four years of college, four years of medical school, and four years in a psychiatry residency program.3


Another difference between a psychologist and psychiatrists is the type and level of training they receive. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who receive comprehensive medical training. While clinical psychologists may receive a doctorate degree, they are not licensed or trained to prescribe medication or provide treatment outside the scope of mental health.

Treatments Provided

Another difference between these professionals is that since psychiatrists have a medical background, they can provide a wider array of treatments to their clients. Psychiatrists know how to distinguish between mental and physical health issues, which can be useful in finding underlying conditions during mental health treatment that also need to be addressed.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During treatment, a psychiatrist and psychologist will likely use different problem-solving techniques for treating mental health issues. Psychiatry will typically lean toward more medical solutions for treatment, which is beneficial for those with more severe mental health conditions. Psychology will lean more toward teaching life skills, coping techniques, and talking through problems with their clients.

Conditions Treated

Since psychiatrists are medical professionals, they can provide treatments or recommendations for non-mental health conditions as well. This can be beneficial for those who struggle with a dual diagnosis of a mental health condition and a physical health condition. Psychologists focus solely on treating mental health conditions.


Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists can both practice in medical settings such as hospitals, mental health treatment facilities, clinics, and private practices. Psychiatrists may also practice in urgent care or psychiatric facilities as well.

How to Choose a Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist

The main way to choose between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is the level and type of mental health care that is needed. For those with more severe mental health conditions or who need to be prescribed medication during treatment, a psychiatrist will be a better option.

Those with less severe mental health issues will benefit from treatment sessions with a psychologist that is based on talking through problems and working on coping skills.

What Can a Psychologist Do That a Psychiatrist Cannot Do?

Since psychiatrists are medical doctors, they will often spend much more time prescribing and managing medications, as well as monitoring the medical health of their clients. Psychologists specialize in relationship building with their clients and treating emotional issues along with mental health issues. For this reason, treatment from a psychologist can often lead to a more personal approach where the client builds a stronger relationship and gets a different level of personal care from their therapist.4

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist

How to Get an Appointment from a Psychiatrist and Psychologist

The process for getting an appointment with a psychiatrist and psychologist may differ between the two. For a psychiatrist appointment, you may be required to get a referral from your primary care physician in order to have it covered by your insurance provider.

You should check with your insurance provider to see if a referral is a necessary step that you need to take for a psychiatrist appointment. Once you have a referral, your referring doctor may recommend a psychiatrist and tell you how you can get in touch with them, or you can simply look up psychiatrists in your area and contact them for a consultation.

Making Strides Towards Healing and Wellness

For a psychologist appointment, it is typically much easier to get an appointment since you likely won’t need a referral. For most psychologists, you can simply contact their office and set up an appointment for a therapy session.

Another good option for meeting with a psychiatrist or psychologist is to go to a mental health treatment center with one on staff. Using psychology or psychiatry services through a treatment center is a good option for those who want a more well-rounded or comprehensive treatment program with around-the-clock support.



Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.