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Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 23, 2023
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in mental health and can prescribe medication; a psychologist holds a doctorate in psychology and primarily provides therapy.

Key Differences

Psychiatrists and psychologists both work in the field of mental health, addressing emotional and psychological needs. However, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose and treat mental illnesses, often using medication.
Psychologists, on the other hand, typically hold a doctoral degree in psychology and are trained to provide therapy, conduct research, and perform psychological assessments. They focus on understanding human behavior and helping individuals cope with emotional, social, and cognitive issues.
When it comes to prescribing medication, only psychiatrists, with their medical background, have the authority to do so in most jurisdictions. Psychologists focus on therapeutic interventions without the use of drugs.
The training pathways for both professions differ significantly. Psychiatrists attend medical school, followed by a residency in psychiatry. Psychologists, after obtaining their undergraduate degree, typically go on to earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology.
In many treatment scenarios, psychiatrists and psychologists collaborate to provide comprehensive care to patients, combining medication management and therapeutic techniques.

Comparison Chart


Medical degree followed by psychiatric residency.
Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology.

Primary Focus

Diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.
Understanding human behavior and providing therapy.

Prescription Authority

Can prescribe medications.
Typically cannot prescribe medications.

Treatment Methods

Medication, therapy, and other medical interventions.
Therapy and psychological assessments.

Professional Title

M.D. (Doctor of Medicine).
Ph.D. or Psy.D. (Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Psychology).

Psychiatrist and Psychologist Definitions


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in mental health.
The patient consulted a psychiatrist for her severe depression.


A psychologist studies the mind and behavior.
The psychologist conducted several tests to understand the child's behavior better.


Psychiatrists are trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders.
The psychiatrist diagnosed the individual with bipolar disorder.


Psychologists are trained in various therapeutic techniques to help individuals.
The psychologist used cognitive-behavioral therapy to address the patient's anxiety.


Psychiatrists often combine therapeutic techniques with medication management.
The psychiatrist recommended both talk therapy and medication for the best outcome.


Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in psychology.
After years of study, she earned her Ph.D. and became a practicing psychologist.


Psychiatrists can prescribe medication for mental health conditions.
After thorough evaluation, the psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant.


Psychologists provide therapy and counseling to address emotional and behavioral issues.
The couple attended sessions with a psychologist to improve their relationship.


Psychiatrists undergo extensive medical training and a psychiatric residency.
After seven years of medical school and residency, he became a licensed psychiatrist.


Psychologists often conduct research to understand human behavior better.
The psychologist published a paper on the effects of social media on self-esteem.


A physician who specializes in psychiatry.


A specialist in psychology.


(medicine) A medical doctor specializing in psychiatry.


See clinical psychologist.


A physician who specializes in psychiatry


An expert in the field of psychology.


One who is versed in, devoted to, psychology.


A scientist trained in psychology


Who should I see if I need therapy?

A psychologist is specifically trained to provide therapy, but many psychiatrists also offer therapeutic services.

What is the main difference between a psychiatrist and psychologist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medication, while a psychologist provides therapy and holds a doctorate in psychology.

What kind of education does a psychiatrist have?

A psychiatrist has a medical degree followed by a psychiatric residency.

Are there specializations within the field of psychology?

Yes, psychologists can specialize in areas like clinical, counseling, forensic, or organizational psychology, among others.

Can a psychologist conduct psychological tests?

Yes, psychologists are trained to conduct various psychological assessments and tests.

What kind of therapy does a psychologist offer?

Psychologists offer various therapeutic modalities, including cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, humanistic, and more.

How do psychiatrists and psychologists work together?

They often collaborate in treatment planning, where psychiatrists manage medication, and psychologists provide therapy.

Do I need a referral to see a psychologist?

It depends on the healthcare system and insurance; some require referrals, while others do not.

Are all psychologists trained in the same therapeutic techniques?

No, psychologists receive training in various techniques and may specialize based on interest and experience.

Who can diagnose mental illnesses?

Both psychiatrists and psychologists can diagnose mental illnesses, but treatment approaches may differ.

Can a psychiatrist provide talk therapy?

Yes, many psychiatrists are trained in and provide talk therapy.

How often should someone see a psychiatrist or psychologist?

The frequency varies based on individual needs, the nature of the issue, and the treatment plan.

How long does it take to become a psychiatrist?

It takes four years of medical school plus a minimum of four years of psychiatric residency.

Is counseling the same as seeing a psychologist?

Counseling is a form of therapy, and while psychologists can be counselors, not all counselors hold a doctoral degree in psychology.

Can a psychiatrist treat children?

Yes, child and adolescent psychiatrists specialize in treating young patients.

Can a psychologist prescribe medication?

Typically, psychologists cannot prescribe medication, but psychiatrists can.

Are therapy sessions with a psychologist confidential?

Yes, with few exceptions (e.g., threat of harm), therapy sessions are confidential.

How does a psychologist typically assess a new patient?

Psychologists use interviews, observation, and sometimes psychological tests to assess a new patient.

Do psychiatrists only use medication as treatment?

No, while medication is a tool, many psychiatrists also utilize therapy and other interventions.

What is a clinical psychologist?

A clinical psychologist specializes in diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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