What is the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Psychologists and psychiatrists both specialize in human behavior and mental conditions. The training for the two professions is different, however, and the two also work in slightly different fields. Both types of mental health practitioners play an important role in understanding how humans behave and interact with each other.

The primary difference between the two has to do with training. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, meaning that he or she has gone to both undergraduate and medical school, and has followed with a professional residency in psychiatry. During the residency, the resident may choose a particular aspect to focus on, such as treating schizophrenia or depression. After qualifying as a doctor, a psychiatrist is able to prescribe medications and administer therapy such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as shock therapy. These doctors usually work with individual patients who need help.

A psychologist usually earns a doctoral degree, although a small number of careers are available in this field that only require a master's, such as an industrial-organizational psychologist. A person who wants to treat patients will need an advanced degree and additional training so he or she can become a clinical psychologist. A person in this profession can offer various types of therapy, depending on the training he or she has received.


There are, however, many different types of psychologists. Research psychologists work in laboratories and on field experiments to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior. Forensic psychologists lend their skills to the legal profession. Child psychologists and school counselors focus on working with children and young adults.

For patients, sometimes the primary difference between the two is a that a psychiatrist is able to prescribe psychotropic drugs. These doctors rarely rely on drugs alone for therapy and treatment, but drugs can sometimes be an important component of treatment for troubled patients. Often, a doctor also trains to offer a particular school of therapy to his or her patients, and may bring things like hypnotherapy, Jungian theory, and Gestalt therapy to the table.

A therapist or licensed clinical social worker may be a psychologist, but the terms are not interchangeable. The terms "therapist" or "counselor" are broad terms that may cover professionals with a variety of educational backgrounds. Although therapists cannot prescribe like an M.D. can, they usually have specialized training in treating patients and dealing with various situations. They also tend to be less expensive to see than psychiatrists, although not all insurance companies will cover visits to a therapist.

As with any medical professional, some research should be done before picking a mental health professional. Even if your doctor refers you to a specific practitioner, your therapy will not be productive if you do not feel comfortable with your provider. Take several sessions before making up your mind, but be aware of how you interact with the person, and decide whether or not you think you will work well together. Do not be afraid to ask for recommendations to other practitioners who can meet your specific needs; most mental health professionals want to see patients get better, regardless of who is treating them.


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Post 8

My wife has all the symptoms of Bipolar, and we have been seeing a psychologist to discuss the episodes that amount from her condition.

Should i be seeing a psychiatrist as well or instead of the psychologist?

She is taking anti depressants but is having manic episodes.

Post 7

What sort of job is it to listen and help insane people at an asylum?

Post 6

Mentirosa: thank you for your last post. I found it clear and extremely helpful.

Post 5

I would add that, in actual practice, a psychiatrist rarely does much "talk therapy" as compared to a clinical psychiatrist or counseling psychologist. In my experience as a counselor in a community mental health care setting, the psychiatrist does the initial assessment and the prescribing of meds, while the case managers and counselors do the rest.

This arrangement is typically due to Medicaid and insurance funding of fee for service practices, more than clinical efficacy, clinician preference, or what might be otherwise best for the client.

Post 4

Bhutan- I can answer that for you. Most psychiatrist earn about $150,000 to $250,000 a year.

It really depends on the area of specialty along with the geographic location of the psychiatrist.

For example a psychiatrist in New York City may earn substantially more than $250,000 a year.

Some psychiatrists choose to work with adult patients while others choose to work with children.

Those interested in becoming a child psychiatrist must complete a residency in pediatrics psychiatry and pass a medical board's license in child psychiatry specialization. This is how a child psychiatrist enters the profession.

Post 3

Oasis11- What is the average psychiatrist salary?

Post 2

Mentirosa- You're on the right track. The major difference between psychologist vs the psychiatrist is that the psychiatrist is a medical doctor that can prescribe medications for the various disorders in addition to offering therapeutic sessions.

The psychologist is limited to their therapy sessions only and cannot prescribe medication.

Also the requirements to become a psychiatrist are much more vigorous than becoming a psychologist.

Steps to becoming a psychiatrist include the completion of four years of medical school and an additional 4 to 5 years of specialty in psychiatry. The specialties may include a concentration in women's psychiatric disorders, anxiety disorders, neuropsychology, and pediatric psychiatry.

Post 1

I believe also that a psychologist walks a client through some of the more common issues of life, and guides her client to the answers and a better understanding of oneself. A good psychologist, after a certain period of time, maybe six month to a year, should not be needed any more. The problem is usually resolved, or at least better understood.

A psychiatrist would on the other hand deal with some illnesses, not just bumps on the road of life.

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