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Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist

Psychiatrist vs psychologist, what is the difference? Discover the details of each profession in this comprehensive article.

Table of Contents

What Is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes. Psychologists analyze and research topics such as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior, and social interactions and how they are influenced by biological, social, and environmental factors. Psychology explores a broad and diverse range of subjects.

What Are the Types of Psychology?

There are many types and branches of psychology, such as:
  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  •  Health psychology
  •  Industrial-organizational psychology
  •  Sport psychology

How Is Psychology Used in Everyday Life?

Psychology can be used in several ways to improve people’s lives. For example, psychologists can help people cope with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Psychology can also help treat substance use disorders by teaching patients how to cope with triggers and alleviate cravings.

In addition, psychology provides a set of very useful tools that can improve people’s daily lives. For instance, psychologists can help develop and enhance emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, communication, and understanding. Furthermore, psychologists can help and teach individuals how to improve relationships, job satisfaction, memory, and performance on tasks.

What Is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with mental health. Psychiatry will be detailed below.

What Is the Main Work of a Psychiatrist?

The main work of a psychiatrist is to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness. They do this by talking to their patients and using various psychological tests and techniques to provide proper diagnoses and treatment plans. They often treat mental illness by prescribing specific medication geared toward addressing specific mental illnesses.

What Are Psychiatric Issues?

Psychiatric issues cover a wide range of mental health conditions. These include mood disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety), psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia), and substance abuse disorders (e.g., alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder). An estimated 52.9 million people aged eighteen and older in the United States have a mental illness.1

Treatment for psychiatric problems often includes medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Psychiatric issues can be very complex, as they can develop for a variety of reasons, including physical health problems like a head injury or a chronic medical condition. As a result, treatment often requires a team approach that includes other healthcare professionals such as psychologists, counselors, and social workers.

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist Key Differences

Psychiatrists and psychologists are mental health professionals who can provide therapy. Nonetheless, there are some key differences in their training, scope of practice, and methods of treatment.

Education and Training

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed four years of medical school and four to six years of residency training in psychiatry. They are licensed to prescribe medication and provide other medical treatments for mental disorders.

Psychologists typically have a doctoral degree in psychology, which takes about five to seven years to complete. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, as they are not medical doctors; however, they can provide psychological therapies, conduct scientific studies, and collect data via surveys, interviews, tests, etc.


The methods of treatment that psychiatrists and psychologists use also differ. Psychiatrists primarily use medication to treat mental health conditions, while psychologists typically use talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy. However, both professions may use a combination of medication and talk therapy to treat their patients, with psychologists recommending medication to a medical doctor (e.g., psychiatrist, physician). In 2019, 15.8% of adults received medication for a mental health concern, and 9.5% received therapy from a mental health professional.2

It is important to note that treatment depends on the mental disorder. For example, psychiatric medications can be effective for some conditions, such as depression and anxiety, but may not always be helpful in every situation. Psychotherapy is also effective for various mental disorders, but different types of therapy are available that can address certain conditions better than others. Some people may benefit from a combination of medication and therapy.


The scope of practice for psychiatrists is broader than that of psychologists. Psychiatrists not only diagnose and treat mental health conditions, but they also can order lab tests, perform physical exams, and hospitalize patients. Psychologists can only provide talk therapy and cannot order lab tests or perform physical exams.

Conditions Treated

Both psychiatrists and psychologists can treat a variety of mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, and eating disorders.

How to Choose Between Psychology and Psychiatry

When choosing between psychology and psychiatry, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

As a Client

As a rule, psychology is more focused on the overall well-being of the individual, while psychiatry is more specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
Whether you go to a psychiatrist or psychologist, they will refer you to the other if you need further assistance. If you are unhappy with your current provider, don’t hesitate to switch to someone you feel is a better fit for you. The most important thing is finding a mental health professional who you feel comfortable with and who can help you reach your goals.

Relevant Considerations

Here are some questions to ask yourself when making your decision:
  •  What are my goals for treatment?
  •  What are the qualifications of the providers in each field?
  •  What is the treatment approach of each field?

As a Career

When deciding whether to choose psychology or psychiatry as a career path, it helps to recognize what type of treatment you want to provide. As mentioned previously, psychology focuses more on observing, researching, and utilizing therapeutic techniques such as talk therapy to help patients. Psychiatry focuses more on diagnosing and treating patients with medications.
Additionally, it is essential to consider the schooling of each career. Psychologists require doctorate degrees, while psychiatrists require medical degrees from medical school.3 Psychiatrists are practicing medical doctors who can prescribe medication. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 181,600 psychologists and 25,520 psychiatrists.4

Should I See a Psychologist or Psychiatrist for Anxiety?

Both psychologists and psychiatrists can provide counseling and therapy for anxiety disorders. However, if you are seeking treatment that includes medication, you will need to see a psychiatrist. It is also important to note that not all therapists are licensed psychologists or psychiatrists. If you want to ensure you are seeing a qualified professional, be sure to ask about their credentials.

What Can a Psychologist Do That a Psychiatrist Cannot Do?

A clinical psychologist’s job description is a bit broader than that of a psychiatrist. While many provide psychotherapy to those with mental illness, other clinical psychologists may teach, administer psychological testing, conduct research, work with administrators, develop treatment and prevention programs, or work as psychological consultants.

Is Psychiatry a Type of Psychology?

Although psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to identify and treat mental health conditions, psychiatry is not a type of psychology. Instead, psychiatry is a specialty branch of medicine.

Are Psychiatrists Real Doctors?

Psychologist can prescribe medication
Psychiatrists are trained physicians who earn a medical degree with a specialty in mental health, just like a cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in heart health. Thus, they are real doctors.

Can a Person Be Both a Psychologist and Psychiatrist?

It’s a common misconception that psychologists and psychiatrists are the same things. While both mental health professionals are dedicated to helping people live happier, healthier lives, there are key differences between the two occupations.
So, can a person be both a psychologist and a psychiatrist? The answer is technically yes, but it’s very rare for someone to hold both degrees. Psychologists typically earn a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology, while psychiatrists complete medical school and earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD). After completing their respective training programs, psychologists and psychiatrists can choose to specialize in specific areas of mental health, such as child psychology or forensic psychiatry.

Find the Right Psychologist or Psychiatrist for You at Boardwalk Recovery Center

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we offer a variety of treatment programs provided by experienced and highly qualified psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals. Contact us today to learn more about our programs, connect with a psychologist or psychiatrist, and begin your treatment.
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