What Does A Psychologist Do In Comparison To A Psychiatrist?

Updated February 9, 2023by MyTherapist Editorial Team

Some people hear the words "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" and think they are the same, just with alternative spellings. To the average person, this belief makes sense. Both are important medical professionals to health psychology since they're the ones who treat mental health issues. If you're curious about health psychology definition, health psychology is the field that focuses on the factor's that influences one's health. However, if you want to seek help for your mental health issues, it's good to know what a psychologist vs. psychiatrist is and their differences.


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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 major change in their life. Life changes can cause mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

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

Once the psychologist has diagnosed the patient's condition, they can use various methods to treat the condition. Psychologists are not as focused on medicine and focus on talk therapy instead. Psychology 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 cognitive psychologist may work with one person at a time, but they can also work as a group therapist.

As mentioned above, they are not focused on medicinal treatments for mental health issues. If a patient needs medicine, a psychologist usually isn't the one who will prescribe it. They will work with other medical professionals in almost all states to prescribe the medicine to treat the patient.

A psychologist will work in various settings, and some of the types include a developmental psychologist, a cognitive psychologist, and more. Finding a psychologist usually isn't that difficult, and you should find one with availability by searching the internet.


A psychologist is highly trained and has received years of education. They have an undergraduate degree and an additional 4-6 years of graduate and doctoral studies. The mind, practice, and ethics involved in 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 after they have graduated.

Now for the definition of what can a psychiatrist do and how they help clients with mental health issues.


A psychiatrist is also employed to help those who have mental issues. These issues can be long-lasting or something that happened suddenly. A psychiatrist works in psychiatry, a field that treats, diagnoses, and prevents different mental disorders.

Diagnosing Clients

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

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 in its fifth edition, and it allows the psychiatrist to diagnose a set of symptoms properly.

How Psychiatrists Treat Patients

Psychiatrists will use a few different tools to treat the patient. Here are a few of them.

  • Talk therapy. Just like a psychologist, a psychiatrist may begin by trying to change the patient's mind. Sometimes, a person who will listen and respond to the patient can help them out. 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 a common and empirically validated mode of treatment. This modality can treat anxiety, depression, and various other mental conditions too.
  • Unlike a psychologist, a psychiatrist can prescribe medications. They have been specifically trained to understand the impacts and side effects of what they prescribe. They have additional knowledge of psychoactive medications that is beyond what a typical family doctor possesses. A psychiatrist can help treat depression, PTSD, BPD, and anxiety with antidepressants. Those who have hallucinations, schizophrenia, and similar disorders, can use antipsychotics. Hypnotics may be used to induce sleep. They may use pills to stabilize their mood. Sometimes, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is needed to get the best results but for those who are hesitant to take medication, you also have integrative psychiatry as an option which mainly takes a holistic approach.
  • ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. There is a bit of a stereotype when it comes to treatment with ECT. They imagine someone strapped down and having their brain electrocuted. While ECT does exist, it may not be what you think it is. The brain is gently stimulated using electrical impulses and magnetic fields. This stimulates your brain, treating 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 heal. Typically a psychiatrist uses a combination of talk therapy and medications.


Like a psychologist, a psychiatrist spends years pursuing their education and internships. Then they get their license through a state exam. Once they get their license, they need to train for four years to become a full psychiatrist. Once they complete the training they need, many psychiatrists take an exam to be board certified. They must retake the exam every few years to keep their certification. If they choose to specialize in a specific area, they may continue to train to become a child psychiatrist or addiction specialist.

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, rehabilitation centers, universities, nursing homes, and other places that require someone to treat a person who has mental health issues.

What Does A Psychologist Do When Compared To A Psychiatrist?

As you can see, 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. Here are a few major differences.

  • A psychiatrist is someone who works as a medical doctor, while a psychologist is not. While psychologists have many techniques they can use to diagnose and treat, a psychiatrist has medicinal options, it is also worth noting that holistic psychiatry is another alternative option for those who are not leaning toward restricted medication for treatment.
  • Most people who are a psychologist 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 usually schedule with a psychologist at any time.

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Seek Help!

Now that you know the difference between the two professions, you can better decide who you need to see. Whatever the choice is, it's a good thing to seek help as soon as you can. Depression psychology says that even a minor condition may need treatment and that an occasional bout of depression can evolve into something worse if left untreated.

Even if you need someone to talk to, it's worth finding someone who can help. A therapist can assist you with various issues, such as liver 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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