The Difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist

A man receiving counselling

People often find it difficult to differentiate between psychologists and psychiatrists and what they do. They have a number of similarities and deal with similar kinds of cases but they also have major differences. Here’s how you can distinguish a psychologist from a psychiatrist and know which one is more appropriate for you to seek help from.

Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists

Psychologists mainly focus mostly on the study of cognitive, emotional and social behaviours by observing, analysing and interpreting the ways in which individuals relate to one another and their environments.

Psychiatrists focus on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of various mental and emotional disorders. They are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of a patient’s problem.

Woman discussing her problems with a therapist

Major Differences

Both the disciplines seem similar in theory but actually have major differences that set them apart from each other.


The main difference between psychologists and psychiatrists are the training they both receive. Psychiatrists are fully licensed medical doctors who have attended medical school and received a medical degree and training before specialising in diagnosing and treating mental health problems. Meanwhile, psychologists receive university training and experience in the discipline of psychology from the very beginning.


Another thing that sets the two apart is that psychiatrists are qualified and licensed to prescribe medication to patients since they have actually studied medicine before specializing in studying psychiatry. Psychologists on the other hand, cannot prescribe medication.


The final major difference between the two includes the treatment options that they both offer to their patients. Psychiatrists can provide a wider range of treatment options to their patients based on their mental and physical health condition. This includes medication, brain simulation therapy, general medical care and psychological treatments. But psychologists can only treat their patients with psychological methods of therapy.

Both psychology and psychiatry are two disciplines highly invested in studying human behaviour and interaction. If you don’t have the time or aptitude to spend years in medical school for a degree in psychiatry, opt for psychology instead.

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