While the terms psychiatrist and psychologist are often used interchangeably, the two professions, while sharing some similarities, are very different in other areas.

Psychiatrists and psychologist are both doctors trained to deal with mental health issues.  The main objective of both professions is to provide you with the necessary means to successfully handle the issues you are facing.


Definition: A psychiatrist is a physician specializing in psychiatry and certified to treat mental disorders.  Psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and psychotherapy.  When evaluating a patient, a psychiatrist can prescribe psychiatric medication, conduct a physical exam, as well as order and interpret laboratory tests.

A psychiatrist must complete a medical degree, followed by an additional four years of residency training in the field of mental health.  The residency often involves working in a hospital’s psychiatric unit, working with individuals of all ages, from all occupations dealing with some form of mental illness whether it is a behavioral, emotional or a psychiatric disorder.

Psychiatrists also receive training in how to diagnose various psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.  The training also includes methods for dealing with individuals suffering from conditions such as anxiety disorders, stress, and anger issues.

Psychiatrists are legally able to prescribe medications.

As psychiatrists are medical doctors, they approach patient care from a biology or neurochemistry approach.  They first exclude any physical reasons for a patient’s symptoms such as a thyroid disorder or a vitamin deficiency.

While psychiatrists receive training in psychotherapy, most do not offer this service. Therapy requires its own unique skill set, and is typically offered by psychologists.


Definition: A psychologist is in an individual who studies and applies psychology, which is the science of mind and behavior.

A psychologist is not a physician, but an individual with graduate level training in working with individuals who suffer from mental illnesses.

Psychologists complete graduate training in psychology, attaining either at PhD. (Doctor of Philosophy) or PsyD. (Doctor of Psychology), specializing in clinical or counseling psychology.  Completing the doctorate degree typically takes five to seven years followed by an internship lasting one to two years.

Psychologists are trained in how to perform psychological tests such as personality tests, clinical interviews, behavioral assessments and IQ tests in order to determine how well a patient is coping with life.

In most states, psychologists are not legally allowed to prescribe medications.

Psychologists closely examine their patients’ behavior, often by tracking life style issues such as sleeping patterns, eating patterns, or patterns of negative thoughts.  Combining this with therapy and counseling allows them to provide the help necessary to make any adjustments required to gain better life coping skills.

Should You See a Psychiatrist or Psychologist?

To determine whether a psychiatrist or psychologist is the best person to help you cope and overcome your mental and emotional difficulties, it is important to first determine how severe your illness actually is.  In order to do this, it is recommended you see a psychiatrist first. The psychiatrist can run medical tests in order to determine if there are physical root causes and then treat those causes if they do exist.

If the root causes are not physical, then therapy is the best choice to help you overcome your difficulties, so it is time to visit a psychologist.


No matter how dark your world seems at the moment, there are people out there who can help.  It does not matter if you call a psychiatrist or a psychologist, just reach out, and contact someone.  If they cannot help you, they will be able to point you in the direction of the right person who will be able to help.