You might have seen the terms "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" used interchangeably, but there are some critical differences between the two. Both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained in mental health, but psychiatrists are also medical doctors who can prescribe medication. In this article, we'll break down the different roles these professionals play to help you understand when you might need to see one or the other.

What is psychology?

Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They can prescribe medication and offer therapy.

Psychologists use research and scientific methods to understand how people think, feel, and behave. They use this knowledge to help people improve their lives.

What is psychiatry?

Psychiatry is the medical treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They use medication and therapy to treat mental illness.

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in psychiatry. Psychiatrists use a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and other therapies to treat their patients.

The difference between psychology and psychiatry

The most critical difference between treatment plans offered by psychiatrists and psychologists is the ability of the former to prescribe medications for mental disorders. Both psychiatrists and psychologists can diagnose and treat mental health conditions using psychotherapy techniques such as psychodynamics and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Clinical psychologists, for instance, also diagnose and treat patients, but they use psychotherapy (sometimes called talk therapy) and CBT as primary tools.

Psychiatrists perform psychological tests to diagnose patients and treat them with treatment. Once the diagnosis is made, the psychiatrist creates a course plan of treatment for the patient, focused on managing symptoms using medications and psychotherapy.

A psychologist will conduct the regular therapy sessions, and a psychiatrist will manage medications. That psychologist may monitor, evaluate, and diagnose patients before referring them to the psychiatrist, who may prescribe and monitor medications.

Suppose the psychologist is treating someone with severe mental health symptoms. In that case, they might recommend a consultation with a psychiatrist, who can help to clarify the diagnosis and prescribe medications. For conditions like ADHD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and trauma, the psychiatrist might focus on prescribed medicines to help with symptoms. In contrast, the psychologist will focus on psychotherapy to help with addressing negative beliefs and encouraging behavioral changes.

While a psychiatrist can also be trained in psychotherapies, they typically handle the therapeutic work in a mental health setting. Psychologists usually serve as consultants to other providers (including partners with Psychiatrists) in providing psychiatric treatments. Psychiatric expertise generally involves working with various patients, ranging from children and adolescents with behavioral disorders to adults with severe cases of mental illness, in a hospital mental health unit. The role of a psychotherapist in medicine is the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with psychiatric conditions.

The different types of psychologists

There are many different types of psychologists, each with its area of specialty. Some familiar psychologists include clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, educational psychologists, industrial-organizational psychologists, and forensic psychologists.

Clinical psychologists help people deal with mental and emotional disorders. Counseling psychologists help people deal with problems in their everyday lives. Educational psychologists study how people learn. Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological principles to the workplace. Forensic psychologists use psychology in the legal system.

Psychologists are mainly concerned with talk therapy. This means they will talk to you about your thoughts and feelings to help you better understand and deal with them.

When to see a psychologist vs. psychiatrist

There's a lot of confusion about the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists. Both are mental health professionals, but they have different training and focus on other areas.

Here's a quick breakdown of when you might see each professional:

Psychologists: Psychologists provide therapy or counseling services. They focus on helping people understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed additional training in psychiatry. They can prescribe medication and often work with patients with more serious mental illnesses.


Understanding the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is essential before deciding which professional to see. Both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained in mental health, but they differ in their approach to treatment.

Psychologists typically focus on talk therapy, while psychiatrists prescribe medication. If you're unsure which type of professional is right for you, it's always a good idea to consult your primary care doctor for a referral.