Psychiatrist vs Therapist: Can Psychiatrists Help?

Updated November 23, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Sonya Bruner

Therapy can be a powerful ally to help you improve your well-being. With or without a mental health issue, therapy can help empower you to live the life you want. Psychiatrists are also a great option for medication management in addition to therapy. When it comes to mental health treatment, there are a handful of choices such as psychiatrists, therapists, psychologists, and counselors.

So, what's the big difference?

Psychiatrist Or Therapist, Which Is Right For You? We Can Help


Psychiatry Vs Therapy: The Difference & How Psychiatrists Differ

When looking to speak to a mental health professional, you should decide which kind of professional is most appropriate for your goals. 

When considering the difference, you should know that a psychiatrist is a doctor who can treat and diagnose mental illness and can prescribe medication. They attend four years of medical school, complete one or two years of internship training, and take on more than three years of special training as a resident. While psychiatrists don't always provide therapy, they prescribe medication as well as diagnose medical illnesses. They can also determine the effects a mental condition can have on other medical issues. This can be particularly helpful if you feel like your mental health issues have taken a toll on your physical health. You may also want to know that it's common for another mental health professional to refer you to a psychiatrist to get a prescription for medication.

Therapist, on the other hand, is an umbrella term for occupations that can include counselors, psychologists, and psychotherapists. The term basically covers anyone who practices what's known as talk therapy.They are also a qualified mental health professional who has at least a master's degree, but a Ph.D. or M.D. is not required to practice therapy. This is helpful to keep in mind when deciding between the two.

Each U.S. state uses different terms to issue licenses. Depending on state law and licensure rules, therapists can diagnose, assess, and treat mental health disorders. Therapists can not write prescriptions for medication the way psychiatrists can, but they frequently collaborate with psychiatrists to ensure your treatment is cohesive. Because of this, it is quite common for someone to see a counselor before seeing a psychiatrist.

If you're reaching out for help, you're not alone. Close to one in five adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness, and people are becoming much more open about mental health. While we can't tell you which path is right for you, we can give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

Psychiatrist Vs Therapist: How to Choose A Psychology Profession For Your Needs

If you are still not sure which you should seek out, there are some things to ask yourself that can help.
  • What is the issue you want to talk about or the specific problem you want help with?
  • Do you prefer the idea of medication as a treatment path? Would you want a treatment that incorporates both medication and therapy? You now know that you will eventually need to consult with a psychiatrist or your primary care doctor if you want to consider medication. If you plan to incorporate a type of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy, therapy is a good first step. Instead of considering one or the other, you may want both.
  • If you're having family or relationship issues, attending specialized family therapy will provide you with detailed and experienced insight into relationship dynamics.

Differences in Appointment Structure

When you visit a psychiatrist, you will likely have a single intake session, and then you'll only be in their office for 15-minute check-ups after your initial visit. With a psychiatrist, follow-ups typically happen once every three months as long as you aren't having problems with your medication or experiencing a mental health crisis. In those cases, you would visit them as often as they deem necessary for your safety.

Most therapists, on the other hand, offer one-hour sessions. You can often work out shorter sessions with them if you have an extremely busy schedule or are in a financial crunch. The most common interval for these meetings is once a week. However, if you are doing well and prefer to check in occasionally, you might only see your therapist once or twice a month. Alternatively, some people see their therapist more than once a week for extra support during a mental health crisis.

Comparing Their Roles

A therapist is first and foremost a supportive figure. Although therapy may offer guidance, suggestions, and education about your problem, they don't make demands. Their main role is to assist you in working through your mental health issues and to provide suggestions on paths that may be helpful. As such, they may suggest homework including a book recommendation or habits to practice to help you continue your work between sessions. This homework can speed up progress dramatically.

A psychiatrist will likely make medication recommendations, check on the helpfulness of the medication, and talk with you about any problems that the medication may present for you. They will not always provide the emotional support that therapy would provide. However, this approach can be very helpful if you've moved past the therapist stage and are only using medication to manage your issues.

Cost of Treatment

Psychiatrists typically charge more than therapists. Depending on the circumstances, however, a therapist's treatment can be just as costly depending on the frequency. (Remember, it's likely that you'll need to see a therapist more often than a psychiatrist.) The cost of psychiatry or therapy may be determined by your insurance coverage, where you live, and the type of professional available in your area. Some therapists are very experienced and specialized, for instance, and may cost quite a bit more than others with less experience.

Referrals For Treatment

Both professions will potentially refer you to the other party if they think you could benefit from this. For example, if you visit a therapist who notes your interest in medication, they may refer you to a doctor or psychiatrist for an evaluation to see if medication could ease your symptoms. If you see a psychiatrist first, they may determine that therapy is an essential part of your treatment plan, so they may refer you to therapy.

If you're still unsure about which you should choose to see when seeking support, it's important to remember the most important step is to just make an appointment with either one of them. You can speak with your medical doctor or make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist directly. If they feel another avenue might serve you better, they'll let you know.

Online Therapy With BetterHelp - See A Therapist Today

a man (seen from behind) sitting at a wooden desk topped with a lamp, notebooks, a plant, and over-the-ear headphones using a computer to access online therapy.

Therapy can help you learn decision-making techniques and allow you to practice these, which can have a helpful impact in many areas of life. The most important thing on the journey to wellness is to get started, regardless of where or how. With BetterHelp, you can access therapy from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). BetterHelp's licensed therapists all possess at least three years and 2,000 hours of hands-on experience.


Talking to a therapist can be life-changing. No matter what you're experiencing, with the right tools, you can move forward to a truly fulfilling life. Take the first step with therapy today.

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