Psychiatrist vs. psychologist vs. therapist
Healthy Living

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist vs. Therapist: What Is Right for Me?

May 2 2024

Seeking mental health support is a brave and sometimes daunting thing to do. Recognizing you need help is the first step, but how do you determine the best fit for your needs? Let’s compare the differences between a psychiatrist vs. psychologist vs. therapist first so you can better decide which is the right provider for you.

Where to start

A great place to start in your journey to mental health is your primary care provider. Your primary care physician or health care provider can provide referrals to mental health specialists or prescribe medication if needed. Additionally, mental health issues can lead to physical health problems, such as how chronic stress can lead to long-term conditions and even change your digestion process. But it’s important to understand the differences between the types of mental health providers that are available.

The terms “psychiatrist,” “psychologist” and “therapist” are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different professionals with distinct roles and training.

Comparing psychiatrist vs. psychologist vs. therapist


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses and emotional disorders.

Psychiatrists are trained to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. They can prescribe medication, provide psychotherapy and may also use other treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

  1. Medical background: Psychiatrists undergo rigorous medical training, which includes four years of medical school followed by residency training in psychiatry. This equips them with a comprehensive understanding of both physical and mental health.
  2. Medication management: Psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medications to treat mental health disorders. They are trained to evaluate the physical and psychological aspects of a patient’s condition to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage.
  3. Treatment integration: Many psychiatrists offer a combination of medication management and psychotherapy. This integrated approach allows for holistic treatment, addressing both the biological and psychological aspects of mental health conditions.


A psychologist holds a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) in psychology and is trained in the science of human behavior and mental processes. Psychologists diagnose and treat mental illness that includes a wide range of psychological disorders and emotional difficulties using various techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoanalysis or humanistic therapy.

Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists generally cannot prescribe medication in most jurisdictions, although some states in the U.S. allow psychologists with additional training to prescribe certain medications.

  1. Therapeutic interventions: Psychologists primarily provide psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Through various techniques, they help individuals explore their thoughts, emotions and behaviors to facilitate positive change.
  2. Assessment and diagnosis: Psychologists are skilled in conducting psychological assessments and diagnostic evaluations to understand a person’s mental health concerns accurately. These assessments may involve interviews, standardized tests and observations.
  3. Specialized training: Psychologists often specialize in specific areas such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology or neuropsychology. Their expertise allows them to tailor treatment approaches to meet the unique needs of their clients.


“Therapist” is a broad term that can refer to any mental health professional who provides therapy or counseling services. This includes psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists and other professionals with training in psychotherapy. Therapists also use methods like talk therapy to guide you in a conversation on how your feelings, thoughts, actions and choices affect each other.

Therapists may have different educational backgrounds and training, which often includes graduate school in a variety of disciplines. However, they all work to help address mental health issues, improve relationships and achieve personal growth.

  1. Counseling and support: Therapists offer counseling and support to individuals, couples, families or groups facing emotional or psychological challenges. They help clients develop coping strategies, improve communication skills and navigate life transitions.
  2. Range of specializations: Therapists may specialize in specific areas such as trauma therapy, addiction counseling or relationship counseling. Their areas of expertise vary based on their training and experience.
  3. Collaborative approach: Therapists often collaborate with other mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists or psychologists, to provide comprehensive care for their clients. This interdisciplinary approach ensures that clients receive the most appropriate and effective treatment.

Other mental health resources

Sometimes getting mental health support from a provider is too difficult, expensive or delayed. In addition to mental health care from providers, there are other resources that can be an additional means of support.

Hotlines and helplines

There are many hotlines and helplines you can call for immediate support. These services are often free and confidential. For example, in the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “HELLO” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. You can also contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness by calling 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text “HelpLine” to 62640 or email

Support groups

Joining a support group can provide you with a sense of community and understanding. You can find support groups for various mental health conditions, addictions or life challenges. Websites like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) offer resources for finding support groups.

Online resources

There are numerous online resources available, including articles, forums and self-help tools. Websites like Mental Health America or the National Institute of Mental Health provide information on mental health conditions, treatment options and self-care tips.

How we can help

While psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists all work in the field of mental health and may provide therapy, they have different educational backgrounds, training and capabilities, with psychiatrists being medical doctors who can prescribe medication, psychologists holding doctoral degrees in psychology and therapists being a broad category encompassing various mental health professionals.

There are also other resources that can provide additional support. Your primary care provider can be a great first step in determining which avenue is best for you on your journey to mental wellness.

When a crisis hits, you don’t always have time to do your research or react. If you or a loved one needs to talk to someone about suicide right away, dial 988 to reach the national suicide and crisis lifeline.

Learn more about the behavioral and mental health services we provide at Bon Secours.

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