Difference Between Psychologist and Psychiatrist (and Why It Matters)

When you need mental health care, the different terminology can be confusing. Do you need a psychiatrist? Psychologist? Anyway, what is the difference between the two?

Both psychiatrists and psychologists are licensed professionals with extensive training in the treatment of mental illness. However, there is a clear difference that really affects the role they play in your treatment. Here is the difference between the two.

The psychiatrist has a medical degree and residency.

To pursue psychiatry , a psychiatrist must graduate from medical school, complete a four-year residency program where they receive additional training, after which they must pass an examination by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. They must re-take this exam every ten years in order to maintain their certification.

One of the biggest differences is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, but a psychologist usually cannot. ( Exceptions are when you live in Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, or New Mexico, where a psychologist can receive additional training in prescribing drugs. Some psychologists working in the military or the federal government may also prescribe drugs.)

If your mental health plan includes medications, you will most likely need to see a psychiatrist. In addition to being able to prescribe medications, psychiatrists are also trained in talking therapy and can perform or request a series of tests that can help assess the physical and mental factors underlying a patient’s condition.

The psychologist has a doctorate and additional clinical training.

To obtain a license to practice , a psychologist must complete a doctorate in psychology, complete 1-2 years of additional training with an emphasis on gaining practical experience with patients, after which they pass a licensed exam that allows them to practice in their condition.

With regard to the differences between the two types of professionals, psychologists focus on assessing and treating patient behavior, while the psychiatrist is also well equipped to assess and treat the underlying physical component of mental disorders.

As for the work of a psychologist , he will assess the needs of the patient, after which he will work with them to solve basic life problems as well as mental health problems. This often takes the form of talking therapy. The type of therapy may vary depending on the patient’s needs and preferences. Most psychologists are trained in at least a few different therapies so that they can adapt to the needs of the patient.

One important difference should be noted: “psychologist” is a very specific name . Although a psychologist may informally refer to himself as a therapist or counselor, other mental health professionals may use these names as well. For a mental health professional to qualify as a psychologist, they must have a doctorate in psychology, additional clinical training, and a state license.

How to choose between a psychiatrist and a psychologist

Seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist depends on what services you need. If you need medications or laboratory tests, you will need to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. If you are looking for talk therapy, you will most likely see a psychologist. If you want both, then you will most likely need to see both.

The good news is that if you go to a psychiatrist and end up needing the services of a psychologist, or vice versa, they will often have recommendations as to what services you need and which specialists might be right for you.

If you are stuck on whether you need a psychiatrist or a psychologist, the most important step is to sign up for your first appointment and move on.


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