Every patient should know the role that’s being played by their providers when they are seeking health care services. So this will help patients achieve their desired health results. When it comes to the mental health, there’s no difference. Temporary patients are involved in seeking treatment of a mental health condition with two main types of providers – psychiatrists and psychologists.

People who choose a career in the helping professions have a strong underlying motivation to help others solve their problems and assist them in overcoming difficulties related to everyday life. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists both work in the field of mental health, helping people with everyday problems and treating people with serious mental disorders, but they accomplish these goals in somewhat different ways. Knowing the similarities and differences between the two can help you choose the right career for you.

The two providers may seem interchangeable but they are actually quite different. Yes, two—but ultimately their differences are a complete treatment approach. Psychiatrists and psychologists need to understand not only the unique roles, but also how both professions work together to achieve success and provide a comprehensive treatment approach.

Many people get psychiatrists and psychologists confused with each other.

Both psychiatrists and psychologists understand how the brain works, our emotions, feelings and thoughts. Both can treat mental illness with psychological treatments (talking therapies).

However, psychiatrists attend medical school and become medical doctors before doing specialist training in mental health. Because they are doctors, psychiatrists understand the links between mental and physical problems. They can also prescribe medications.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors with at least 11 years of training – usually more. 

They first do a medical degree at university. Next they spend at least 1 or 2 years training as a general doctor.

They then complete at least 5 years training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.  

Psychologists have at least 6 years of university training and supervised experience.

They may also hold a Masters or Doctorate level qualification in psychology. If they have a Doctorate (PhD) a psychologist can call themselves ‘Dr’, but they are not medical doctors.  

Clinical psychologists have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Treatments provided

Psychiatrists can provide a wide range of treatments, according to the particular problem and what will work best. These include:

Psychologists focus on providing psychological treatments.

Conditions treated 

Psychiatrists tend to treat people who need their medical, psychological and social needs considered.

These are usually people with complex conditions, for example:

Someone who has attempted suicide or has suicidal thoughts will usually be seen by a psychiatrist.

Psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions that can be helped effectively with psychological treatments. This might include behavioural problems, learning difficulties, depression and anxiety.

Working together

Psychiatrists and psychologists often work together. A psychiatrist might make an initial assessment and diagnosis, then refer you to a psychologist for ongoing psychological treatment (talking therapy).

Psychiatrists and psychologists also work together in hospitals as part of mental health teams.

Who should I see?

If you are unsure whether you should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, talk to your GP. They can give you advice about whether a psychiatrist or a psychologist is right for you.

It will depend on your unique situation and the type of treatment you need. Some people might see both.

The Role of the Psychologist

Psychologists study a graduate-school program, receive a Ph.D., PsyD or EdD and are specialized in connections between brain conduct and behavior as well as ways to explore these relationships and to address the interaction behavioral problems.

During their study they can also identify conditions of mental health rather than medicine. Most psychologists, however, are focused on the patient’s thoughts and emotional state, rather than primarily upon chemical imbalances. They also evaluate the mental health of the patient in general. You can test patients for mental disorders and treat them. They can also offer advice or psychotherapy. However, they (in most states) cannot prescribe medication, or do medical treatments. Often, psychologists are working intimately with a psychiatrist who manages the mental illness treatment of a patient, while the psychologist is treating it.

The Role of the Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists study medicine, earn MD and specialize in the physical brain in order to create the patient’s person. Psychiatrists are also trained in a number of disciplines including neurology, forensic psychologies and chemical dependence and complete a clinic or hospital residence. The majority of psychiatric residency programs are for four years, the last year focusing on the resident’s specialty.

They take their license to practice after residing at the State Medical Board. Psychiatrists will determine whether the disease is caused by mental or other physical illnesses and will often seek to exclude a different cause of the symptoms before a diagnosis. For instance, a psychiatrist can test whether the patient’s negative feelings are due rather than an anxiety disorder because of a thyroid problem.

They also examine whether a chemical imbalance causes the problem and whether the body reacts to the symptoms physically. Psychiatrists also examine the effects of medicines on the body. After diagnosis, they can prescribe medicines to treat the condition. Depression and anxiety are two examples of mental health conditions that are well controlled for their symptoms with medication. Sometimes, however, medication is not enough to administer the psychologist, so psychotherapy or counseling is vital.

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