What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist?

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Page last updated: 3/09/2022

This article will focus on explaining what is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. It will highlight which of these professionals you should get in touch with when you are struggling with your mental health.

What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist?

Although all of them will ultimately focus on making people’s lives better, there are some differences between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. These differences center around the view they will have of their clients, their focus of study, and how they will approach the matters you are dealing with.

A psychiatrist will have a more organic view of the client. Since they are doctors, they are the ones that might want to assess if there is any other organic reason that may be impacting your well-being. They are also the ones that can prescribe you medication when necessary.

A psychologist and a therapist are the ones that will have the authority to assess how you are feeling emotionally. They are also able to assess psychiatric conditions. But while a psychologist is trained to do psychological testing, which a therapist is not licensed to do. 

What is important to keep in mind is that even though they will work in different parts of your mental health care, being open to those professionals will surely guarantee you get the excellency support you deserve.

So let’s understand what type of training each of these professionals gets, and what that means when you look for each of them for treatment.

What is a psychologist? 

A psychologist is a professional that has an advanced degree in psychology. It can be that they have a Ph.D., or a Psy D usually in psychology, from which they can often become clinical psychologists. To get one of those, they will probably go to a graduate school for 6 or 7 years once they get their bachelor’s degree.

They will most likely get that degree from a school that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Since that is necessary for them to get their license. And when they finish their studies, they can work in research and even perform psychotherapy.

They can understand what type of disorders their clients are going through. But differently unlike the other mental health professionals, it is only the certificated psychologist that will be trained and able to understand psychological testing. 

During the many years of their studies, they will learn how to administer, correct, and interpret those tests that can give information about the person’s personality, and intellectual development. And because of that, they may have a better ability in understanding the differences between one psychiatric condition and another.

So if you are looking for a professional that can name which condition you have, and then refer you to the proper line of therapy, and even a psychiatrist, if your condition asks for medication, you should go to a psychologist.

What is a psychiatrist? 

A psychiatrist is a professional that has an advanced degree as an M.D, or D.O. They must have gone through medical school, and that is where they learned how to prescribe the proper medication for each psychiatric condition.

They are not professionals with whom you would get psychotherapy, but because of their experience, and the field they are in, they may have a caring and supportive way of listening to their clients. 

If you are going to a psychiatrist, know that you will have appointments with them less often than with a psychologist or a therapist. You will most likely have an appointment with them once a month or so as a way to check if the medication they have prescribed is working and if there is any adjustment that needs to be done.

You may look for a psychiatrist when suggested by your therapist, your psychologist, or even your general practitioner if they realize you are going through mental health issues that require medication. 

Those can be permanent conditions, such as schizophrenia, or you may need medication for some time, like when you have a depressive episode.

What is a therapist?

A therapist is a professional that has an advanced degree in psychology, but instead of getting a Ph.D., they went to a Master’s (M.A. or M.S.) level graduate school in which they got their training. For this process, they may have gotten through two years more of education.

When they are done, they have learned various techniques about how to assess psychological states, and how to make the proper intervention in those cases. But differently than a psychologist, they don’t receive the training for doing psychological testing, and because of that, they usually won’t diagnose their clients.

But they will be extremely capable of offering support, and counseling to their clients. When a person is certified as a therapist, they don’t have the same registration as a psychologist. 

Because there are many lines of therapy, such as family therapy, gestalt therapy, and solution-focused therapy, the professional will have a certification from an institution within their line of therapy.

You may be suggested to go to a therapist by a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or even by your general practitioner if they understand you need a professional that can help you understand your emotional state better, and help you navigate through it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist? 

What is solution-focused therapy? 

Solution Focused Therapy is one form of therapy that centers on the main problem the client is bringing to the therapist’s office. It is different from other forms of therapy that will often analyze the client’s previous history, which can often take a long time.

In this form of therapy, the client is thought of as someone that has what it takes to make their life better, but the therapist is there to raise some questions that will help them find better solutions to their problems.

It is a form of therapy that can be used by people that are dealing with addiction, or a traumatic situation that has just happened to them. It also seems to help children that are having behavioral problems, people with trouble in their relationships, or that don’t feel equipped to deal with conflict.

But solution-focused therapy should be chosen by people that are dealing with traumatic situations that have happened long ago. Or by people that understand that their emotional problems at the moment are connected to matters that have happened in their past.

That is because solution-focused therapy will mostly focus on the problems that the person is facing at the moment, and not dig deep into what has happened throughout your life.

Should I treat depression just with a psychiatrist?

No, if you are going through depression, you would likely benefit from a joint treatment between a psychiatrist, and a therapist. 

A psychiatrist, which is a doctor that specializes in mental health, will be able to prescribe you medication that will surely help with the chemical imbalance that can happen in your brain while you are depressed, and it will also help decrease the intensity of your depressive symptoms.

But since depression is not only related to biological factors, you will also need a profession that will help you deal with the emotional matters that are related to depression. And that is where the therapist gets in. 

A therapist will be able to listen to you in a non-judgemental way and will be able to help you understand your emotions better. Through that, you may even learn what was the root cause of your depression and can figure out new strategies to deal with life more positively.

Which professional will diagnose if I have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder?

If you are suspecting you may have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, you may want to look for a psychologist, since that is a professional that will be able to perform some psychological testing on you, and understand if you present some of the requirements that are needed to diagnose someone with ADHD.

Aside from the psychologist, you can also look for a psychiatrist. They will have a medical look at your symptoms and make a diagnosis based on that. 

If they ever understand that you have ADHD, they may discuss with you the possibility of getting you into medication, since it can often be necessary to treat the ADHD or the anxiety that can usually come with it.

Can a therapist be the one that will assess my IQ level?

No, the professional that will be able to assess your IQ level is the psychologist. As it is known, therapists are professionals that can offer counsel, but they haven’t received the training to do psychological testing.

On the other hand, a psychologist has had, in their formative years, many years of practice in different types of psychological testing, being the one that is used to determine the person’s IQ. 

Commonly, the psychologist will submit you through a long test battery, which is often done in more than one day. And afterward, you will be able to have your score, which determines your IQ level.

What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist?

What are some lines of therapy?

There are many lines of therapy. For example, if you are considering how the therapist will see the patient, you may want to think about going to a therapist that is from the solution-focused therapy, or the gestalt therapy.

But if you are looking for a therapist because you are dealing with family conflicts, you may consider looking for a therapist that specializes in family therapy. And get in touch with them to help you and your family group.

Another form of therapy is couple’s therapy, which is focused on helping couples deal with conflicts they have been going through. It can be cheating, dealing with big life changes, like the loss of a loved one, or even that they are having a baby.

What is Gestalt therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a line of therapy that will focus on finding the solution to the conflict, or any ambiguities that the client can be going through. It is a line of therapy focused on trying to help the client to become aware of how each situation is making them feel.

By becoming more aware of their situation, the client can begin to think more clearly and make better decisions.

Conclusion 

This article focused on explaining the main difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. It showed what they differ, and their similarities by explaining what each of these professionals does.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below.

References

https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/psychological-therapies/differences-between-psychology-psychiatry-and-psychotherapy
https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/guide-to-psychiatry-and-counseling

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