What Is The Difference Between Psychology And Psychiatry?

Updated April 3, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

There are many different types of mental health professionals one can go to when one needs support. Two of those are psychiatrists and psychologists. 

Since psychiatrists and psychologists work together in many situations, their treatment plans can overlap. This can cause some confusion when looking for treatment for a mental health disorder or therapy. There are distinct differences between the two that are important to understand when considering which type of help you should look for. Keep reading to learn more about these differences.

What is a psychologist?

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A psychologist has a graduate-level degree such as a master's or doctorate and has had at least one to two years of clinical experience. These individuals spend an average of eight years in school and two more in training. A psychologist will either have a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) or a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) and have studied behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, psychological therapy, treatments, psychological research, and personality development. Those with a Ph.D. will also have an extensive amount of training in research. These professionals have one of the highest levels of knowledge when all types of mental health practitioners are compared.

Types of psychologists

Once psychology students have been through school and had at least 2,000 hours of supervised training, they must then apply for a license in their state to practice psychology. These individuals typically have a specialized type of psychology that they are focused on, such as development, social, physiological, educational, or industrial-organizational psychology. These individual specializations each require its own course of education, and to specialize in any one issue the psychologist must complete both schooling and training in that specialty. But what does a psychologist do? That depends on their specialization.

  • Clinical psychologists focus on the assessment and treatment of mental conditions such as abnormal behavior and psychiatric disorders. 

  • Research psychologists are trained to do experiments with statistics and scientific methods. 

  • Developmental psychologists focus on how we change and grow during our lifetime. They seek to understand and explain perceptual changes, social growth, emotional changes, intellectual development, and even physical growth.

  • Industrial-organizational psychologists work in the business field to deal with workplace problems like behavioral and productivity issues. They work to improve the workplace's efficiency and morale by studying leadership, organizational process, staff behavior, and employee attitudes.

  • Educational psychologists are those who treat students in the school system or teach psychology. They may also study how individuals work with teachers, parents, and other students.

  • Counseling psychologists are centered on treating those under mental distress or who have a wide variety of symptoms. The study is described as improving emotional and social health where they connect with family, work, health, etc.

  • Behavioral psychologists, which are also known as behaviorists, consider that all behaviors are dependent on conditioning. Two of these types of psychology include operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

  • Experimental psychologists use scientific methods to study behavior and the brain itself. They may research anything from child development to social problems and often conduct case studies and experiments.

  • Cognitive psychologists use cognitive psychology, which is about internal mental states. These psychologists study ideas such as problem-solving, decision making, attention, memory, learning, and motivation.

  • Social psychologists look at diverse topics that have to do with social behavior. Some of these include nonverbal communication, leadership, social interaction, and group behavior.

  • Comparative psychologists work with animals in the study of animal behavior. This helps them get a better understanding of human psychology. Those who are comparative psychologists include geneticists, ecologists, anthropologists, and biologists.

What do psychologists do?

Psychologists use assessments, evaluations, and tests to determine their client's needs, and they have the necessary training to administer treatment. They can make diagnoses with these assessments and can provide the therapy needed in most cases. The psychologist must know their client's characteristics, personality, cognitive abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Some of the treatments that psychologists often provide include:

  • Psychoanalysis: a form of talk therapy that helps patients and psychologists discover thoughts and emotions buried in the subconscious

  • Gestalt therapy: psychotherapy that helps with relationship problems and low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT: a form of psychotherapy that helps change the way patients behave by helping them change their thought patterns.

  • Cognitive analytic therapy, or CAT: helps clients figure out what may have caused their current mental health problems, such as overly controlling parents or neglect.

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in mental health conditions. They are either M.D.s or D.O.s, and one of the main differences between them and psychologists is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. Thus, they must attend medical school to learn general medicine before going to college for psychiatry. They must practice for four years in a medical training program as a resident, typically in a hospital psychiatric unit. A psychiatry resident will see various patients, from children to adults, with many different mental illnesses.

Like psychologists, psychiatrists sometimes specialize in one mental health issue or group. For example, some may only treat children and adolescents, while others treat mainly elderly patients. Some psychiatrists focus on an illness like addiction or on family therapy. Others may be specially trained in working with brain injuries or diseases, so they must know more about how the brain works.

What do psychiatrists do?

No matter which type of psychiatrist one chooses to be, they are more of a medical doctor than a psychologist. They typically focus more on the physical aspects and treatments rather than psychotherapy and CBT. Some of the treatments that a psychiatrist will usually use include:

  • Medication such as antidepressants and antianxiety drugs.

  • Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, the use of electrical currents in the brain.

  • Light therapy, artificial sunlight treatments to treat seasonal affective disorder.

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, the use of a magnetic coil to send magnetic pulses to the brain to treat depression.

  • Vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, the use of electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve to treat major depression or epilepsy when drugs do not work.

Working together

Although some psychiatrists use psychotherapy as psychologists do, they typically leave that to the psychologist. They will work closely with a psychologist to ensure both the physical and mental aspects of the patient's disorder are effectively treated. In some instances, a psychiatrist will send a patient to a psychologist because their issue is not a medical one, and they try to stick to the medical part of mental health. For example, if you and your significant other have relationship issues, a psychiatrist will usually refer you to a psychologist or relationship therapist for psychotherapy.

Relationship troubles

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If you and your partner are having relationship troubles, you may need to speak to someone. But how do you know if it's time to talk to a psychologist or a therapist? If you and your significant other spend more time arguing than you are talking or if every conversation seems to end in a fight, you might benefit from counseling. If one of you were unfaithful or if one or both of you have trust issues, a counselor, therapist, or psychologist may be able to help you.

In truth, most relationships could benefit from couples counseling because no relationship is perfect. That is not to say that you will have a perfect relationship after counseling, but you may at least learn why you and your partner are not getting along like you used to. Sometimes you and your loved one have just gotten in a rut or need some variety and excitement. 

Therapy might be beneficial if one or both of you have suffered a significant loss. For example, a miscarriage or loss of a child can be a major blow to a relationship and tear you apart. Couples counseling can help you bring each other comfort rather than distancing yourselves from each other. Everyone reacts differently to this type of situation, but with some psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, you may be able to figure out how to deal with these emotions together.

Online therapy can be a convenient option

Couples counseling or therapy can be done by any mental health professionals, including psychologists, therapists, or counselors. Of course, everyone is busy, and nobody has time for therapy, right? With online couples counseling, you and your partner can be at home together or in two different places. For example, if your significant other is at work and you are at home, online therapy can be perfect. Another benefit is that you do not have to make an appointment, and you can reach out to your counselor anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because when you and your partner are arguing, you do not want to wait weeks or even months for an appointment. 

Regain is an online therapy platform specializing in relationships. You and your partner can decide to meet with a licensed therapist separately, together, or both. You'll be matched with someone trained to work with you to resolve your specific issues—and if you happen not to connect with the first therapist you match with, you can switch with no problem.


Now that you know more about the similarities and differences between psychologists and psychiatrists, you can determine which one would be most helpful for you and your mental health.

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