Understanding The Difference Between A Therapist And Psychiatrist

Updated November 07, 2018

Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT

Therapists and psychiatrists are both mental health professionals, but they have very different job descriptions. Understanding the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist is important when making decisions about you or a loved one's mental health needs. There is a vast array of mental health conditions, and they range in symptoms and severity. Before you make a mental health care decision for yourself or someone you love, it is important to know the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist, and the type of care they provide.

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What Type of Care Does a Therapist Provide?

A therapist has a wide range of expertise in providing therapy to improve the life and mental well-being of their clients. Anyone who provides mental health care to others using a therapeutic approach and is licensed to practice is considered a therapist. A therapist may specialize in psychotherapy or talk therapy, or he may use many different approaches and techniques for providing mental health care for clients.

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Therapists are licensed but the requirements for the licensing depends on where they are working. Some therapists focus on specific mental disorders, while others specialize in a specific type of therapy such as group therapy, family therapy, and individual therapy.

What Type of Care Does a Psychiatrist Provide?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor of Psychiatry. Psychiatrists focus on medications used to treat specific mental disorders as defined in the DSM-V. The DSM-V is a diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders that is used to diagnose mental disorders. Psychiatrists use a scientific approach to understanding psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, and they prescribe medication to deal with the condition.

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Psychiatry is a specialized field of medicine. A psychiatrist can treat mental disorders that may not respond to psychotherapies. Some mental conditions improve with therapy but they may also require specific medications. A psychiatrist will interview patients and adjust their medications accordingly to provide those with mental disorders a path to healing.

Understanding the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychiatrist

The main difference between a therapist and psychiatrist is a medical degree in psychiatry. A psychiatrist is licensed to prescribe medications for mental disorders whereas a therapist does not have that ability. Psychiatrists use the DSM-V to diagnose patients by studying and researching the symptoms. Once a diagnosis is achieved, the psychiatrist's patients may now seek a therapist to help them cope and achieve progress.

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Most therapists have a degree and are licensed to practice mental therapy professionally but they do not have the same specialized degree that psychiatrists have. Any licensed mental health care provider that delivers therapy to a patient is considered a therapist, but only a doctor of psychiatry can prescribe medication and therapy.

Some therapists specialize in specific areas of the mental health field. Psychotherapy, behavior modification, and exposure therapy are just a few of the specialized therapies provided by therapists. Many times, a psychiatrist will recommend therapy with a licensed professional after they diagnose and prescribe medication if it is needed.

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