Key Differences Between Psychiatrists And Psychologists

Many people reach a point in life where they feel they need to see someone for their mental health. This is a good thing, not something to be ashamed of. But knowing which type of provider to see can be confusing. Here are some facts that can help you decide.

Most Psychologists Cannot Prescribe Medication

Despite what you may see on television, it's not uncommon for mentally ill people to know something is wrong. For example, most people recognize when they are overly obsessed with cleanliness or repeating the same actions over and over. They see their own extreme patterns of behavior and the swings between terribly depressed and manic.

If you suspect you will need medication to treat your mental illness, you will likely need to see a psychiatrist. However, because of the way insurance companies operate, they will often require you to first see a psychologist and then get a reference to a psychiatrist. These two professionals frequently work in tandem with one another.

Psychiatrists Are Medical Doctors

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor like any other. Just like your family physician, they have graduated from medical school. They have simply chosen to specialize in psychiatry rather than internal medicine or another medical specialty. This is why they can prescribe medications. A psychiatrist can provide counseling, but they are more apt to deal with organic disorders of the brain, such as schizophrenia.

A psychologist may have a doctorate degree but rather than medicine, their doctorate degree is in another field, such as psychology or philosophy. A psychologist is often first seen for counseling. This is when someone feels they need someone to discuss their problems, life situations, and behavior issues.

Psychiatrists Can Order Hospitalization

Some psychiatric illnesses require hospitalization to adequately treat a patient. This is not the same as being institutionalized long-term. It simply means a psychiatrist may feel short-term supervision in a medical facility will best help you.

For example, if they suspect you have a manic-depressive disorder and are suicidal, they may order hospitalization until medications begin working and you are no longer in danger of harming yourself.  

Psychologists Use Many Different Therapeutic Approaches and Specialize

When you see a psychologist, you may simply talk about your life and any current struggles you are having. The psychologist then provides feedback, acting as a sounding board. But a psychologist may employ other techniques as well.

For example, some psychologists offer little feedback and guide patients to find solutions themselves. Some psychologists also specialize in interpersonal family relationships, such as marriage, while others specialize in addiction.


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