Access to proper mental healthcare is an ongoing issue, and we have only begun to understand its importance.
One thing that makes mental health confusing to many people is a lack of knowledge about associated titles. Some people struggling with mental health feel confused about whether to go to a counselor, psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist.
But in order to get the help you need, it’s important to know the difference between therapist and psychiatrist, the two most commonly sought mental health professionals. This will allow you to determine more accurately whose services you should seek.
So here’s a breakdown of the key differences between the two mental health practitioners.
Psychiatrist vs Therapist: At a Glance
We cannot match up the psychiatrists vs therapist just because they are both mental health professionals. Their individual approaches to treating mental health disorders are different, and their credentials determine that.
What this means is that while psychiatrists are certified with a medical degree, therapists are not. This authorizes psychiatrists to treat you with medical treatments and prescribe medications. Furthermore, since therapists have less formal training and education than psychiatrists, their fees tend to be lower.
Another important distinction is that most psychiatrists don’t offer talk therapy, which therapists are mainly known and recognized for. However, although every psychiatrist reserves the right to offer talk therapy, not all therapists can prescribe clinical treatments.
What Is a Psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a mental health practitioner who has a medical degree (which means they are certified as a doctor). This allows them to diagnose mental health disorders and prescribe medication according to their diagnosis.
As such, the focus of a psychiatrist is typically on identifying severe mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, sleeping and eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.
The goal of a psychiatrist is to offer an individualized treatment plan (typically involving medication) based on the diagnosis of their patient. This might include talk therapy, but the nature of this therapy will usually differ from that of conversations you might have with a therapist.
A psychiatrist will be more focused on diagnosing you than offering a regular outlet for your thoughts and so will be more likely to ask you many questions.
However, talk therapy is only one of several possible treatment methods that a psychiatrist may use. A psychiatrist might also prescribe medications such as sedatives, antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, stimulants, and mood stabilizers. You probably won’t see your psychiatrist more than once a month once the initial assessment period has ended.
What Is a Therapist?
Any psychologist, counselor, or licensed mental healthcare provider can be a therapist. A therapist mainly focuses on providing psychotherapy and talk therapy, so the word “therapist” is mainly a catch-all term for mental health professionals trained, educated, and licensed to provide the aforementioned services.
Based on the therapy, they also have the right to diagnose mental health disorders and suggest possible treatments for them.
However, what a therapist cannot do is prescribe medication for the mental health conditions or disorders that they diagnose.
This does not mean that all therapists are limited only to talk therapy/psychotherapy; in some regions, psychologists who have an education background in clinical psychopharmacology are licensed to prescribe a few select medications.
The goal of a therapist is to help their patient identify and work through their mental issues. This is where talk therapy comes in as it allows the therapist to listen and then offer new perspectives for their patient.
Furthermore, in psychotherapy, it is common practice to examine the patient’s relationships and thoughts, and behaviors. A patient typically sees their therapist once a week. Also read how psychotherapy and counseling are different.
Main Differences Between Psychiatrist and Therapist
- Psychiatrists hold a medical degree (usually Ph.D./PsyD), but therapists do not. And so, psychiatrists are licensed as medical doctors, but therapists are not.
- While therapists can usually be certified within 3-4 years, for a psychiatrist it takes around 13 years (as they have to first attain a medical degree, then choose to specialize in mental health).
- Psychiatrists are authorized to prescribe medications; therapists are not.
- Therapists mainly use talk therapy and psychotherapy to treat their patients; this is optional for psychiatrists.
- Psychiatrists are more qualified to handle seriously debilitating mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, PTSD, and ADHD. In contrast, therapists are mainly focused on offering an outlet for any issues you may feel you are facing in your life.
- Psychiatrists typically have a higher fee than therapists due to their extensive education and training.
We hope that we’ve made the difference between therapist and psychiatrist clear. Still, you might be confused as to whose help you should enlist for your mental health issues.
We would recommend making an appointment with a psychotherapist and seeing how it goes from there (also, it’s cheaper than going to a psychiatrist right away).
If you are diagnosed with any severe mental disorders, and your therapist determines that you need medication, they will refer you to a psychiatrist.
Good luck, and never give up hope!