The two words sound similar, and they are often confused. Many people seeking mental health treatment do not know whether they should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. While both a psychiatrist and psychologist have doctoral degrees, there are significant differences between the two.


  • Attend medical school and have a M.D.
  • Receive extensive training in medicine and medical problems.
  • Prescribe psychiatric medication, such as antidepressants.
  • Provide support and may provide brief counseling to patients during medication check ups.


  • Go to graduate school and receive a Ph.D. or Psy.D.
  • Receive extensive training in therapy and assessment.
  • Do not usually prescribe medication (unless they have received medical training).
  • Provide psychotherapy/counseling to patients as a primary treatment for mental health issues.

Psychologists and psychiatrists often refer patients to each other. It is not unusual for a patient to be seeing both a psychologist and a psychiatrist at the same time. This may be inconvenient, as some people would like to see one doctor for both counseling and medication management. However, this is often not the most beneficial treatment, as many people with psychological problems need focused, in-depth counseling. The type of counseling that a psychiatrist provides is different than what a psychologist provides. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, psychiatrists spend an average of 17.5 minutes with patients. Conversations focus primarily on case management and providing support, while specific psychotherapy interventions are rare. Psychologists, however, spend an average of 50-60 minutes with patients, and use a variety of evidence-based therapeutic interventions.