Therapist vs. Psychiatrist: What To Know

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In the mental health world, psychiatry and psychology often tend to overlap. This can make it confusing for anyone trying to decide who to see for their mental health concerns. The truth is, both therapists and psychiatrists are experts at understanding how the mind affects behaviors.

What's the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist?

Although both therapists and psychiatrists work in the mental health field, there are some critical differences between the two. Understanding these differences will help you decide who to make an appointment with for your mental health needs:


A therapist is either a psychologist or a licensed counselor with a master's or doctoral degree in psychology. Therapists will use talk therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help treat your mental health disorder symptoms. This type of talking therapy is effective in helping you manage your stress, improve your relationships and reduce the harmful effects of mental health conditions.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who went to medical school before undergoing specialized training in psychiatry. Due to their medical background, psychiatrists have the authority to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication for mental health disorders. Psychiatrists may develop a treatment plan for patients that combine medicine with therapy that they or a therapist provides.


Can a therapist prescribe medication?

Although therapists usually have a Ph.D. or Master’s degree and are licensed to counsel patients, they do not have a medical background. Therefore, they are unable to prescribe medication. However, therapists are highly trained and will recommend medication if they feel you need it. In this situation, they would refer you either to a GP or psychiatrist who can then prescribe the recommended medication.

Do psychiatrists do talk therapy?

Yes, psychiatrists have specialized training and can conduct talk therapy such as psychotherapy or CBT and prescribe medication. Although most psychiatrists will provide treatment or counseling, their focus is more on diagnosis and medical treatment. In some cases, they may refer you to a therapist if your treatment plan includes talk therapy.


Do therapists diagnose you?

Yes, just like psychiatrists, therapists are trained to diagnose mental health disorders. A therapist will use talk therapy to determine a mental health problem and conduct psychological tests to make a diagnosis. A therapist can also develop a treatment plan for you based on your diagnosis. This treatment plan will usually include a form of therapy such as CBT but may also include medication for which you'll be referred to a medical doctor or psychiatrist. 

Can counselors prescribe medication?

No, as mentioned above a counselor or therapist can't prescribe you medication. But they can work with a psychiatrist or medical doctor to make sure your treatment plan is right for you. The person they work with will often be someone they recommend or refer to you but if you already have someone you should be able to continue seeing them. 

Do psychiatrists do therapy?

Yes. Keep in mind that “therapist” tends to be an umbrella term for several mental health professionals. Therefore, psychologists, licensed counselors, and even clinical social workers are often referred to as therapists. 

Which mental health professional can prescribe medication?

For a physician to prescribe medication, they must complete four years of medical school and specialized training to receive a Ph.D. To become a board-certified psychiatrist, one must have a Ph.D. in Psychiatry, which allows them to prescribe medication. 

Should I see a psychologist or psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists and therapists often work together to treat patients with mental health disorders. SOHOMD providers understand the complexities of mental health conditions and will develop holistic treatment plans that combine medication with talk therapy. This means that you will get the help you need from the right provider, regardless of which professional you choose to see initially.

Find a psychiatrist near you today, and get started taking care of your mental health. 


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