Roles of Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Every patient should know the role that’s being played by their providers when they are seeking health care services. So this will help patients achieve their desired health results. When it comes to mental health, there’s no difference. Temporary patients are involved in seeking treatment of a mental health condition with two main types of providers – psychiatrists and psychologists.

People who choose a career in the helping professions have a strong underlying motivation to help others solve their problems and assist them in overcoming difficulties related to everyday life. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists both work in the field of mental health, helping people with everyday problems and treating people with serious mental disorders, but they accomplish these goals in somewhat different ways. Knowing the similarities and differences between the two can help you choose the right career for you.

The two providers may seem interchangeable but they are actually quite different. Yes, two—but ultimately their differences are a complete treatment approach. Psychiatrists and psychologists need to understand not only the unique roles but also how both professions work together to achieve success and provide a comprehensive treatment approach.

Many people get psychiatrists and psychologists confused with each other.

Both psychiatrists and psychologists understand how the brain works, our emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Both can treat mental illness with psychological treatments (talking therapies).

However, psychiatrists attend medical school and become medical doctors before doing specialist training in mental health. Because they are doctors, psychiatrists understand the links between mental and physical problems. They can also prescribe medications.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors with at least 11 years of training – usually more.

They first do a medical degree at university. Next, they spend at least 1 or 2 years training as a general doctor.

They then complete at least 5 years of training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Psychologists have at least 6 years of university training and supervised experience.

They may also hold a Master’s or Doctorate level qualification in psychology. If they have a Doctorate (PhD) a psychologist can call themselves ‘Dr’, but they are not medical doctors.

Clinical psychologists have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Treatments provided

Psychiatrists can provide a wide range of treatments, according to the particular problem and what will work best. These include:

Psychologists focus on providing psychological treatments.

Conditions treated 

Psychiatrists tend to treat people who need their medical, psychological, and social needs considered.

These are usually people with complex conditions, for example:

Someone who has attempted suicide or has suicidal thoughts will usually be seen by a psychiatrist.

Psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions that can be helped effectively with psychological treatments. This might include behavioral problems, learning difficulties, depression, and anxiety.

Working together

Psychiatrists and psychologists often work together. A psychiatrist might make an initial assessment and diagnosis, then refer you to a psychologist for ongoing psychological treatment (talking therapy).

Psychiatrists and psychologists also work together in hospitals as part of mental health teams.

Who should I see?

If you are unsure whether you should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, talk to your GP. They can give you advice about whether a psychiatrist or a psychologist is right for you.

It will depend on your unique situation and the type of treatment you need. Some people might see both.

The Role of the Psychologist

Psychologists study a graduate-school program, receive a Ph.D., PsyD, or EdD, and are specialized in connections between brain conduct and behavior as well as ways to explore these relationships and to address the interaction behavioral problems.

During their study, they can also identify conditions of mental health rather than medicine. Most psychologists, however, are focused on the patient’s thoughts and emotional state, rather than primarily upon chemical imbalances. They also evaluate the mental health of the patient in general. You can test patients for mental disorders and treat them. They can also offer advice or psychotherapy. However, they (in most states) cannot prescribe medication or do medical treatments. Often, psychologists are working intimately with a psychiatrist who manages the mental illness treatment of a patient, while the psychologist is treating it.

The Role of the Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists study medicine, earn MD and specialize in the physical brain in order to create the patient’s person. Psychiatrists are also trained in a number of disciplines including neurology, forensic psychologies, and chemical dependence, and complete a clinic or hospital residence. The majority of psychiatric residency programs are for four years, the last year focusing on the resident’s specialty.

They take their license to practice after residing at the State Medical Board. Psychiatrists will determine whether the disease is caused by mental or other physical illnesses and will often seek to exclude a different cause of the symptoms before a diagnosis. For instance, a psychiatrist can test whether the patient’s negative feelings are due rather than an anxiety disorder because of a thyroid problem.

They also examine whether a chemical imbalance causes the problem and whether the body reacts to the symptoms physically. Psychiatrists also examine the effects of medicines on the body. After diagnosis, they can prescribe medicines to treat the condition. Depression and anxiety are two examples of mental health conditions that are well controlled for their symptoms with medication. Sometimes, however, medication is not enough to administer the psychologist, so psychotherapy or counseling is vital.

The Role of Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists are helping professionals who provide assessment, evaluation services, psychological testing, and treatment. Many psychologists work in private practice, providing individual, couples, family, and group psychotherapy. Sometimes, clinical psychologists also work in schools, research facilities, mental health clinics as clinical supervisors or in university-level teaching positions. According to the Society of Clinical Psychologists, clinical psychologists perform a wide range of tasks, from prevention and early intervention with minor problems to dealing with adjustment and maladjustment of people with serious mental disorders. For example, you may work with people suffering from depression to anxiety, or you may provide intervention services to children with autism or developmental delays. Unlike psychiatrists, however, psychologists cannot prescribe medication, because they are not medical doctors.

Education and Training

To become a clinical psychologist, you need a minimum of a doctoral degree from a clinical psychology program accredited by the American Psychological Association. Many universities offer doctoral degrees in psychology as a Psy.D, or a doctorate in psychology, or a Ph.D, or a doctor of philosophy in psychology. Both programs prepare you to work in academia or to provide clinical psychology services. The difference is that a Psy.D focuses more on clinical work and requires an internship in a clinical setting, while the Ph.D involves research and a dissertation upon completion of your coursework. Additionally, you will need a license in your state if you want to practice as a clinical psychologist.

The Role of Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who complete a residency program in psychiatry after the completion of their regular medical training. They diagnose, treat, and help prevent mental disorders. Psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication. Sometimes, they may also provide psychotherapy, but many times, psychiatrists tend to focus on medication management. They tend to treat the most seriously mentally ill patients, such as those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or chronic major depression because these patients often require medication to function on as normal a level as possible.

Education and Training

To become a psychiatrist, you need to complete a medical degree (MD). This is a four-year program that provides a general medical education consisting of clinical practice, lab work, and classroom instruction. Upon completion of your MD, you will take a licensing examination to allow you to practice medicine. Then you will need to complete a four-year, postdoctoral residency. The first year is usually completed in a hospital, where you focus on treating patients with a wide range of medical problems. The remaining three years of your residency focus specifically on psychiatry, where you will work with patients with a wide range of mental disorders. You can then choose a sub-specialty, although this is not required. You can choose from areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry or geriatric psychiatry, and obtain certification through the American Psychiatric Association. You may also choose to complete voluntary board certification through various professional organizations, such as the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Once patients are fully aware of the working relationship between the mental health psychiatrist and psychologist, they will feel much easier to understand their well-rounded approach to their treatment.


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