Psychiatrist Vs. Therapist: What’s the Difference?

So, you have decided to see someone to talk about the issues you have been having lately, but do you know who to see? There are so many choices; psychiatrist, therapist, psychologist, counselor, which one would be best for you? Well, it helps if you know the difference between them, but there are so many confusing commercials and websites which complicates things and decision making difficult to do. The two options that many people find themselves choosing between include a psychiatrist and a therapist. One of the first things you should know is that a psychiatrist can be a therapist but a therapist cannot be a psychiatrist. Here are some more facts to help you better understand the two:


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has attended four years of medical school, one or two years of internship training, and more than three years of special training as a psychiatrist resident. Not only can a psychiatrist provide therapy, but they can also prescribe medication and diagnose medical illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure. Psychiatrists are also able to determine the effects a mental condition can have on other medical issues such as heart disease, obesity, and alcoholism.



A therapist is an umbrella term that can include counselors, social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists. It basically covers all those who practice talking therapy such as family therapists, marriage counseling, school counselor, etc. A therapist is a mental health professional who has at least a master's degree in that field but does not need a Ph.D. or M.D. to practice therapy. However, these individuals do not diagnose patients or write prescriptions unless they also happen to be psychiatrists. Most therapists specialize in a certain field like educational (school counselor), occupational (occupational therapist), or community (family therapist).


Psychiatrist vs. Therapist: How to Choose

If you are still not sure which one you should see, there are some things to ask yourself that can help.

  • What is the issue you want to talk about or problem you need help with? Think about whether it is a personal issue affecting only you such as anxiety or depression. A psychiatrist can give you an evaluation and possibly prescribe medication if it is needed.
  • Is it a family issue that involves more than just you? A family therapist would be better equipped to handle that because they focus specifically on family therapy and have had in depth training in that field.
  • Does it involve work or school? In that case, you should probably see an occupational therapist and if that does not seem to be working, they can refer you to a psychiatrist.

Whether you see a therapist or a psychiatrist may be a question for your primary care physician because many insurance companies will not pay for therapy unless you are referred by a doctor. Therefore, it may be best to speak to your doctor before deciding who to see.

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