What Does A Psychologist Do In Comparison To A Psychiatrist?

Updated September 04, 2018

Some people hear the words "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" and think they are the same thing, just with alternative spellings. To the average person, this belief makes sense. Both are medical professionals who treat mental health issues. However, if you want to seek help for your mental health issues, it's good to know the differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. In this post, we shall discuss them.


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First, let's take a look at the career of a psychologist. A psychologist helps diagnose and treat those who have mental disorders. A person may go to a psychologist for more than just mental disorders, however. Someone may see a psychologist because of a situational issue, such as a new change in their life. Major life changes can cause mental issues.

For those who have mental disorders, a psychologist may employ different tests to learn more about the patient. The tests can help the psychologist map the patient's personality and allow the psychologist to make treatments based on the patient's character. These tests are also good for diagnosing.

Once the psychologist has figured out the patient's condition, they can use different methods to treat the condition. Psychologists are not as focused on medicine and may use talk therapy instead. Therapy methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help the person who is having trouble by changing how they think and approach different situations.

A psychologist may work with one person at a time, but they can also work with group therapy as well.

They are not focused on medication, as mentioned. If a patient needs medicine, a psychologist usually isn't the one who will prescribe it. In almost all states, they will work with other medical professionals to prescribe the medicine that can treat the patient.

A psychologist will work in various places across the country. These can include private businesses, hospitals, schools, prisons, rehab, and so much more. Finding a psychologist usually isn't that difficult, and you can be able to talk to some people if you want to find a psychologist.


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When it comes to education, a psychologist requires many years of it. They need to have an undergraduate and then 4-6 years of graduate school. The mind and the various ethics of psychology take a long time to study. A psychologist will go through internships, take tests, and do various other tasks before obtaining their license. A psychologist's education never ends, even if they have graduated. We are always learning new things about the mind, and if psychologists didn't stay up to date, their methods might not even work.

Now for the definition of a psychiatrist.


As a psychologist, a psychiatrist is employed to help those who have mental issues. These issues can be long-lasting or something that happened suddenly. A psychiatrist works in the field of psychiatry, which is the medicine that treats, diagnosis, and prevents different mental disorders.

Diagnosing Clients

As a psychologist, a psychiatrist will help those who are struggling by using various tests to ensure a proper diagnosis. These usually come in the form of talking to the patient at first and the patient can tell them their symptoms. However, talking to the patient alone usually isn't enough for a proper diagnosis. A good psychiatrist will look at the genetic history of the patient to see if there is a family history of mental illness. The person who is diagnosed will be treated once the psychiatrist is sure that they have the right diagnosis.

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How They Find Mental Disorders

A psychiatrist will rely on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM, to potentially learn what mental disorder the patient has. The DSM is currently on its fifth edition, and it allows the psychiatrist to deduce what the mental disorder is.

How Psychiatrists Treat Patients

Psychiatrists will use quite a few tools to help the patient, and here are a few of them.

  • Talking therapy. As a psychologist, a psychiatrist may begin by trying to change the patient's mind. Sometimes, being a person who will listen to the patient can help the patient out quite a bit. Talk therapy can last a few sessions or could take years to be a success. Every case is different. Different types of therapy may be used for different situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used quite a bit. This can help treat anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions too.
  • Medications. Unlike a psychologist, a psychiatrist can prescribe medications, and they are more accurate with the medications they prescribe than most people. A psychiatrist can help treat depression, PTSD, BPD, and anxiety with antidepressants. For those who have hallucinations, schizophrenia, and similar disorders, they can use antipsychotics. Hypnotics may be used to induce sleep. They may use pills to stabilize mood. Sometimes, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is needed to get the best results.
  • ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. This is a bit of a stereotype when it comes to how people assume what psychiatrists do. They imagine someone tied down and having their brain electrocuted. While ECT does exist, it's not like how you think it is. The brain is stimulated using electric, magnetic, and other ways to stimulate your brain, and it can treat severe depression and other mental disorders that do not respond to medicine or talk therapy.

A psychiatrist should use all the tools they have to help the patient get better. If a psychiatrist just pushes pills on you and doesn't listen, they may not be qualified for the job. Instead, find a psychiatrist who can be able to help you and listen to what you have to say.


Like a psychologist, a psychiatrist spends a long time in medical school and other educational courses to get their degree, and then gets their license through a state exam. Once they get their license, they need to train for four years to become a full psychiatrist. This can involve patient work for the first year and then diagnose and treat patients for the remainder of their time. Once they get the training they need, many psychiatrists take an exam to be board certified, and they must retake the exam every ten years to keep their certification. Other times, they may spend more time training in a specific title. For example, they may train how to be a child psychiatrist or how to prescribe medicine to treat their addiction.

So like a psychologist, they spend a lot of time training. Once they get their job, they can work in various locations such as hospitals, rehab, universities, nursing homes, and other places that require someone who can treat a person who has mental health issues.

What Does A Psychologist Do When Compared To A Psychiatrist?

As you can observe, both professions are quite similar, but there are a few differences between them. They both treat mental disorders and can diagnose their patients. Both can talk to their patients and employ various ways of treating them. We suppose that the main difference is that a psychiatrist is for more severe cases. Here are a few major differences.

  • A psychiatrist is someone who works as a medical doctor, while a psychologist is not. While a psychologist has many techniques they can use to diagnose and treat, a psychiatrist has more options too.
  • Most people in the psychologist department can't prescribe medicine to the clients. A psychologist may request assistance from a psychiatrist or a doctor to prescribe the medicine, but they are not usually the people who are writing the prescription.
  • People can go to psychologists for less severe mental problems. Someone who has mild depression or insomnia may see a psychologist. But someone who has been struggling with severe medical conditions, or has had sudden intense mental disorders, may see a psychiatrist.
  • You can't just walk into a psychiatrist's office and be a patient. You need to have a referral from someone else, such as a general practitioner. Meanwhile, someone can talk to a psychologist at any time.

As you can see, there are a few differences. If you have a mild situation, go to a psychologist. If it's more severe, try to get a referral to a psychiatrist.

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Seek Help!

Now that you know the difference between the two professions, you can figure out who you need to see. Whatever the choice is, it's a good thing to seek help as soon as you can. Even a minor condition may need treatment. That occasional bout of depression can evolve into something worse if left untreated.

Even if you just need someone to talk to, it's worth it to find someone who can. A therapist can help you with various issues, such as life problems or getting the motivation you need to achieve your goals. By talking to someone, they can help you live a better life.

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