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Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

Psychology vs. Psychiatry | What's the Difference?


For individuals who suffer from certain mental health problems, there is always a question that comes to their mind. Whom should they approach for help? How would one know which type of doctor would be right and whom should they speak to? Do they need to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

For those who are unsure of the difference between the two terms, then know that you are not the only one with the confusion. There has been a lot of confusion revolving around what a psychologist and a psychiatrist is. How do their duties differ from each other? They both have similarities but with a lot of differences as well. Centerway Psychiatry provides details about these often confused professions below.

How are psychiatrist and psychologist the same?

Before we move on to their differences, let us first have a look at their similarities. Psychiatrists and psychologists are different kinds of doctors, but they are both trained to diagnose and treat patients with mental health issues. Both of them are there for you and can talk to you about your problems. They usually focus on providing you with the means so you would be able to properly manage certain issues in your day-to-day life.

How are they different?

Psychiatrists and psychologists greatly differ when it comes to education. Psychiatrists go to medical school and undergo training in general medicine. After earning an MD degree, they practice residency in psychiatry for another 3-4 years. During their residency, they work in the hospital's psychiatric unit and deal with behavior disorders to different cases of mental illnesses from children and adolescents to adults. 

Psychologists earn a doctoral degree in psychology (Psy.D.) or philosophy (Ph.D.). They are not medical doctors, but they can give psychological tests such as personality and IQ tests. They also have an internship, which lasts for 1-2 years. 

However, the most commonly known distinction between the two professions is that psychiatrists can prescribe medications because of their medical training. If psychologists have taken a psychopharmacology course, a few states allow them to prescribe a limited number psychiatric medications. 


Psychotherapy is practiced by both psychiatrists and psychologists, in which they talk with their patients to help diagnose and treat emotional and mental issues. However, given their different training and background, they also have different ways of solving their patient's mental health issues. 

Psychologists particularly observe their patients' behavior and often track their eating patterns, sleeping patterns, and negative thoughts that might be the root cause or a contributing factor to their problem. On the other hand, psychiatrists mainly approach their patients based on neurochemistry and biology. Prior to diagnosing mental health conditions, they first make sure that their patients do not have thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies. Once a diagnosis is made, medications are prescribed by psychiatrists.  

Whom should you see?

Generally, psychologists and psychiatrists are equally covered by health insurance programs, and when it comes to patients who pay out of pocket, both usually work on a sliding scale. 

One advantage of choosing a psychiatrist is that he or she has substantial knowledge and training when it comes to evaluating health conditions or certain drug effects, which could cause behavioral or emotional symptoms. Moreover, a psychiatrist can team up with other medical specialists or your primary care doctor to effectively manage and treat your condition. Psychiatrists have also trained in different fields, such as emergency medicine, pediatrics, and outpatient care. 

Moreover, psychiatrists have more training and treatment options available for serious mental health problems and their corresponding severe physical symptoms. Examples of these mental health conditions are schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder, in which patients tend to have a hard time taking care of themselves. 

People with less-severe types of mental health issues are more inclined to initially speak with a psychologist. The reason is that most people do not want to take medications that could alter their body chemistry along with having the fear of getting addicted to medications. However, it is also important for patients to have a guided decision according to the specific problem they are having. People with certain phobias might find therapy sessions with a psychologist beneficial, while those who have clinical depression may benefit from medications. 

Psychologists may also refer their patients to psychiatrists if they observe severe symptoms in their patients, such as highly irrational or anxious thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Patients who manifest such symptoms and behavior possibly require medications. Consulting a psychiatrist can also help clarify the diagnosis. 

What is a psychiatrist and what do they do?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, including drug use disorders. Psychiatrists assess a person's physical and mental aspects of psychological problems.

Psychiatric help is sought for many reasons. Problems may suddenly occur in the form of panic attacks, frightening thoughts or hallucinations, auditory hallucination (hearing voices), and suicidal thoughts. Other problems may be long-term, which include anxiousness, feelings of sadness, or hopelessness that often lead a person's life come grinding to a halt. 

Psychiatrists can also order a full range of laboratory and psychological tests, along with patient discussions to help determine a patient's overall mental and physical well-being. They can also use a number of treatments, which include different forms of psychotherapy, psychosocial interventions, medications, and procedures such as

Most psychiatric medications are similarly used when treating diabetes or high blood pressure. After patients are thoroughly evaluated by psychiatrists, medications can be prescribed for treatment. These medications can help correct people’s chemical imbalances in the brain, which are thought to be contributing factors in some mental illnesses. In patients who need long-term treatment using medications, periodical monitoring is required to see any potential side effects as well as drug effectiveness. 


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who take residency training after medical school, while psychologists have Ph.D.s who undergo internship after getting their degree. It also means that psychiatrists often treat seriously ill patients, such as those who have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and prescribe medications for treatment as well as use other types of intervention.

Psychologists usually have the same diagnostic system, but often use psychotherapy as their main treatment method instead of prescribing medications. Most people with less severe mood problems and anxiety disorders are often treated by psychologists. 

The most important thing to remember when choosing between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is knowing the type of treatment the patient needs. If a patient's condition requires taking medications, then a psychiatrist is the healthcare provider a patient would want to see.