Therapist vs. Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference among a therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist? For many people these three terms are used interchangeably — but they shouldn’t be. While therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists often work together closely to improve a patient’s mental health, they are distinct professions. Here is some information to help you understand these different medical professions, and help you determine which one is right for your health needs.

Therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist are sometimes used interchangeably, but these three terms aren't synonymous. Learn the differences among these health professions. Click To Tweet

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist specializes in the study of behaviors and mental processes. This includes emotional and cognitive processes, how people interact with their environments, and how they interact with other people.

Psychologists help people learn to understand and handle different life problems and mental health issues.

A psychologist diagnoses and treats mental disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. They may provide treatment for chronic problems or acute problems, and they can do so in an individual, family, or group setting. The most common type of treatment used by psychologists is psychotherapy, or talk therapy. 

Psychologists help patients handle stressful events, beat addictions, or manage illnesses. People may seek counseling or treatments from psychologists for things such as traumatic experiences, a death in the family, or long-term anxiety.

One of the most notable difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that psychologists are not medical doctors. They do not have a medical degree and are not trained in general medicine or in prescribing medications.

Practicing psychologists must earn an undergraduate major, a masters, and a doctorate in psychology. Additionally, most states require a two-year internship. Practicing psychologists may earn a PhD or PsyD.

What is a psychiatrist?

Like psychologists, psychiatrists specialize in the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental issues. Psychiatrists diagnose mental disorders and focus on chemical imbalances in the brain. They can assess both the mental and physical effects of a disorder.

However, unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors, or physicians, with a degree in medicine. Psychiatrists must complete an undergraduate and medical degree, plus a four-year residency in psychiatry. They may then choose to complete a fellowship in a sub-specialty.

As medical doctors psychiatrists can prescribe medication, and while they may provide some counseling, a psychiatrist might refer a patient to a psychologist or therapist for additional counseling or therapy.

What is a therapist?

In Arkansas, License Professional Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Social Workers provide mental health services. Therapists require master degrees and approval of their licensing boards to practice in the mental health field. Therapists provide mental health diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Therapists work in offices, hospitals, treatment centers, and group homes. There are many different types of therapy such as play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, animal-assisted therapy, dialectal behavioral therapy, and many others. Therapists cannot recommend or order medications, but they can refer you for evaluation for medication or other treatments.

When you begin therapy your therapist may ask what brings you to therapy, your concerns, and any symptoms you experience. Your therapist may ask you to complete some questionnaires and learn about your childhood, education, work history, current relationships, and long-term goals. Your therapist will then set goals with you and work to help you achieve them. Therapy can be short or long term depending on the problem/diagnosis and its severity. Therapy can be done in an individual, family, couple, or group setting.  

Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists aren’t one and the same, but they often work together closely to help diagnose and treat mental disorders. Together, these mental health professionals can provide the best possible care for mental health or behavioral issues.

A psychiatric evaluation helps determine which mental healthcare professional is right for your specific health needs. Sometimes medication is the best treatment, and sometimes therapy services or counseling will be your best option.

Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry offers compassionate and comprehensive mental health care for children, adolescents, and adults in Northwest Arkansas. The NWA Psychiatry team includes two psychiatrists, a mental health nurse practitioner, and a therapist.

Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry is currently accepting new patients. A referral from your primary care provider is not necessary unless required by your insurance. Call 479-571-6363 to request an appointment with a mental health professional in Northwest Arkansas, or learn more about NWA Psychiatry.