Psychiatrist vs Therapist: What's The Difference Between Them?

By: Julia Thomas

Updated September 08, 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, a therapy can help empower you to live the life you want and foster better habits. Psychiatry is 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.

a woman sitting on a couch and discussing psychiatrist vs therapist. she is wearing a white t shirt, a gold necklace, and gold mid-length skirt and holding a coffee cup. we see the outline of a man she's talking to.

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Psychiatrist vs Therapist: Which Should You Choose?

When looking for a psychiatrist vs therapist, you should decide which kind of professional is most appropriate for your goals. Most people end up choosing between a psychiatrist vs therapist. This article will cover the differences between a psychiatrist vs therapist.

When considering psychiatrist vs therapist, you should know that a psychiatrist is a doctor who can treat and diagnose mental illness and can prescribe medication. A psychiatrist attends four years of medical school, completes one or two years of internship training, and takes on more than three years of special training as a psychiatrist resident. While psychiatrists don't always provide therapy, they prescribe medication as well as diagnose medical illnesses. Psychiatrists 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 a psychiatrist vs therapist.

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.

Psychiatry Vs Therapist? How to Choose A Therapist Or Psychiatrist For Your Needs

If you are still not sure which you should see out of a psychiatrist vs therapist, 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 psychiatrist vs therapist, you may want both.
  • Psychiatrist vs therapist: 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 vs therapist, 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 the psychiatrist as often as they deem necessary for your safety.

Psychiatrist vs therapist: 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 vs. therapist 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. A psychiatrist 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

With psychiatrist vs therapist, psychiatrists typically charge more than therapists. Depending on the circumstances, however, a therapist's treatment can be just as costly as treatment with a psychiatrist. (Remember, it's also 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 therapy or psychiatrist 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.


Both psychiatrists and therapists 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 whether you should choose to see a therapist or a psychiatrist, 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.

Conclusion On Therapist Vs Psychiatrist

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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