At a glance, the words "psychiatrist” and “psychologist” may seem similar, and people tend to use them interchangeably. But while both psychiatrists and psychologists are equipped to treat mental health conditions, the two professions are actually quite different in their expertise and medical training.
Here’s everything you need to know about what sets psychiatrists and psychologists apart and how to know which one is best for your well-being.
Clinical psychiatrists are highly-trained medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who are experts in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions by offering necessary evaluations, prescribing medication, and providing therapy.
Clinical psychologists, on the other hand, are not medical doctors but mental health professionals who focus on treating mental health conditions through counseling and behavioral guidance (talk therapy).
Both psychiatrists and psychologists can be part of an effective treatment plan, working together to provide holistic care and support.
There are more specific differences between psychiatrists and psychologists as well, specifically when it comes to methods of diagnosis and medical treatment, education, and licensing requirements.
As physicians, the care that psychiatrists provide includes diagnosis (via lab and psychological tests), prescription medication, and/or talk therapy.
Because psychologists aren’t medical doctors, they focus primarily on talk therapy or other types of therapy as mental health services. (In certain states, but not all, psychologists can prescribe medication.)
While both psychiatrists and psychologists have years of specialized training, their degree type differs, as do the total years of training and career path. Psychiatrists attend medical school after gaining a Bachelor’s degree, whereas psychologists may pursue doctoral degrees.
Some careers in clinical psychology are available with only a Bachelor’s degree, while others do require graduate school and a Master’s degree.
Psychiatrists and psychologists may hold different titles:
Both psychologists and psychiatrists go through an official licensing process; however, the requirements differ for each.
As doctors with a medical degree, psychiatrists must:
Most states require psychiatrists to regularly complete continuing education hours throughout their career to maintain their certification.
The requirements for licensed psychologists include:
Educating yourself about the types of mental health care is a great first step. If you're ready to take the next step and start seeking care, here are some things to keep in mind.
First, you may not need to choose between a psychologist and a psychiatrist—although there are differences in the types of treatment and expertise mental health professionals can provide, they often collaborate on your care.
That said, here’s a quick guide to help you decide if a psychologist or psychiatrist is the best starting place.
Not sure if your symptoms are severe enough to warrant medication? We always recommend consulting with a psychiatrist first to discuss your options.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. And once patients are paired with a psychiatrist, they also have the ability to see a therapist. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Nidhi Sharoha is a double board certified psychiatrist in Psychiatry and Consultation Liaison Psychiatry. She completed her undergraduate training at Stony Brook University followed by medical school at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has completed both a Residency in Psychiatry and Fellowship in Consultation Liaison Psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center.
Dr. Sharoha has held academic appointment at Stony Brook University Hospital, practicing as a consultant psychiatrist as well as the Associate Director of Consultation Liaison Psychiatry Fellowship Program. She has been deeply involved in teaching throughout her years
She has a genuine interest in treating a vast array of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, post traumatic stress disorders and obsessive compulsive and related disorders. She also has experience in treating patients with medical comorbidities and has training in issues related to women’s health.
Patients looking for a psychiatric provider will find that Dr. Sharoha has a gentle approach to diagnosis and management of her patients. She believes in the principle that body and mind are interconnected which allows her to provide comprehensive care to all of her patients.