What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Michelle Overman LMFT
November 23, 2018

It is always important to understand the differences in what kind of mental health professional you feel you need. In the medical world, you might see your general practitioner, but if you have foot pain, you will want to see an orthopedic specialist. Like medical doctors, mental health professionals have specialties as well. There are therapists who focus on specific concerns like couples counseling, trauma, and addiction. Even if mental health professionals do not specify a certain niche in which they work, they will have a variety of backgrounds and training that differ amongst one another. That is why it is important to understand what you need and what you are looking for as you begin reaching out to mental health professionals. It will help you choose the right person that can help you with exactly what you need.


When it comes to a psychologist and a psychiatrist, there are very distinct differences to note. A psychologist has training in psychotherapy, a fancy term for providing counseling or therapy. They will have a background in understanding diagnoses so that they may diagnose people and treat them using therapeutic techniques. In order to provide treatment, they will have gone through a master’s program and a doctorate program and will be licensed to provide therapy. The academic work along with a post-graduate internship while under supervision will give them the license they need to practice. Psychologists also have the ability to provide psychological testing which can give them the ability to provide assessments that can help them determine the best course of treatment for their clients.

Psychiatrists have a very different background than a psychologist. These individuals are licensed medical doctors, meaning they have attended and completed medical school. After completing medical school, they spend time during their residency training in psychiatry. Because they are medical doctors, they are able to prescribe medications whereas a psychologist does not possess that kind of knowledge or training. The psychiatrist’s main objective is to provide medications based on the client’s diagnosis. Once the client is prescribed a medication, a psychiatrist continues to work with them on managing and refilling their medication. While a client might see their psychologist weekly, many people see their psychiatrist every few months to manage their medication.

Research indicates that medication works best in conjunction with therapy. Medication is a great resource, but it will not necessarily solve all your problems. Therapy allows professionals to work with clients on changing behavioral patterns that are unhealthy or even damaging. For example, a psychiatrist can provide medication to help a person manage their anxiety. Then, a psychologist can help them learn breathing techniques as well as address some root causes to help a person fully cope with the anxiety. This is why it is important to consider having the psychologist and psychiatrist work in tandem with each other. Both individuals can help address the major needs of the client. A client can even sign paperwork called a release of information to allow both professionals to communicate and collaborate with each other on the best course of treatment. It can help ensure treatment of the whole person rather than just a part of them. That type of collaboration can be highly beneficial when seeking mental health treatment and is something to be aware of as you search for professional help.

Michelle Overman LMFT

Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 7 years.

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