Psychiatrists and psychologists. They’re both -ists that are trained to diagnosis and treat mental health conditions. But what’s the difference, really?

Here’s everything you need to know about psychologists vs. psychiatrists. Plus which one is best for you!

What do they do?

Psychologists usually focus on the behavioral and emotional side of mental health. Only in some states can they prescribe an Rx. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication. They focus more on the role of biology and brain chemistry.

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If you’re new to #TeamTherapy then welcome aboard! Your choice between a psychologist or psychiatrist really depends on your individual needs. One might be a better fit than the other. Or you may want to see both. And that’s okay too!

When to see a psychologist

Psychologists diagnose mental conditions through observations, formal psychological testing, and interviews.

Psychologists can:

  • teach positive coping strategies
  • help you work through a traumatic event
  • offer tools for navigating social situations
  • help you understand your behavioral patterns

Reminder: In some states they can’t prescribe medication.

When to see a psychiatrist

You might not know if your condition has a physical or neurochemical basis but if you’re looking for medication that may help with your mental health, they can offer drug-based solutions. They may also check to see if your issue stems from an underlying medical condition.

If you’re more just looking for counseling, then you’re better off starting with a psychologist.

Psychiatrists are also the go-to for disorders like:

You may also see a psychiatrist if you:

  • experience chronic insomnia
  • are struggling with hyperactivity
  • have issues with memory loss

Though, insomnia, hyperactivity, and memory loss can also be assessed, diagnosed, and in some cases, treated by psychologists.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have different educational requirements. They also train in their own way. Here’s a basic breakdown of what each expert goes through before they start practicing.

Psychologist training

Psychologists do their doctoral-level training after grad school. They earn a doctor of psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy (PhD). A licensed psychologist can also obtain an Ed.D. (doctor of education) in counseling psychology.

These degrees can take 4 to 6 years. But the training doesn’t stop there!

Though they begin working with patients during their doctoral program, they still have to complete 1 to 2 years of additional training, directly with patients.

For licensure eligibility, this can range from 3000 to 4000 hours, depending on the requirements of the individual state. After that they need to pass an exam to get licensed in their state.

Many psychologists do additional training to become a specialist. Popular areas of focus include:

  • child and adolescent psychology
  • psychoanalysis
  • neuropsychology
  • forensic psychology
  • geropsychology
  • clinical psychology

Psychiatrist training

Psychiatrists need to go to medical school. They graduate with either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO). After they get their degree they have to take a written exam to get licensed in their state. But that’s not all!

After med school psychiatrists have to complete a 4-year residency (not necessarily all of which will be in psychiatry). This is when they start to work with folks in outpatient and hospital settings. They may use therapy, medication, and other treatments.

Psychiatrists must pass an exam to become board-certified. It’s given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. They need to be recertified every 10 years.

Some psychiatrists complete additional training. Some specialities include:

  • child and adolescent psychiatry
  • geriatric psychiatry
  • pain medicine
  • forensic psychiatry
  • addiction medicine
  • sleep medicine
  • psychoanalysis

Choosing the right psychiatrist or psychologist can be intimidating. But don’t worry! Here’s how to find the provider of your dreams ✨.

How to find a psychologist

You don’t need a doctor referral to see a psychologist. But def check your insurance coverage before your first visit. You don’t want any unexpected $urprises.

An awesome way to find a psychologist is the American Psychological Association’s locator service. It gives you a rundown of the providers in your area. You can also ask a trusted friend or family member for some tips.

Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure what type of therapy you want. They can help you narrow it down.

How to find a psychiatrist

Picking a psychiatrist is easier than you might think. The American Psychiatric Association’s has a great locator tool. You can also ask local medical centers for recommendations.

Keep in mind, you usually need a referral from your primary physician to see a psychiatrist. You may also need to work with someone who’s covered by your insurance.

Ask your doctor if they think you need a specialist. For example, those struggling with substance abuse might benefit most from an addiction psychiatrist.


Lots of people opt for telemedicine sessions. Remote telepsychiatry and teletherapy are becoming more and more popular, especially in the wake of COVID-19. But every practice is different. Check with your provider before downloading a telemed app.

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Getting help is the first step. And it’s often the hardest. Whether you wind up seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist, you should be super proud of yourself! Their approaches might be different but both can help you feel better. You got this!