What Is the Difference Between Psychiatry and Psychology?

Psychology and psychiatry are closely associated and often used together in mental health treatment. Psychologists and psychiatrists can work together or apart to create treatment plans for individuals experiencing mental health conditions. However, the two mental health professions are different in several ways, even as they also overlap.

The main difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that psychiatrists are physicians trained in mental health. As such, they are able to prescribe medication. Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in psychology and have received specialized training in psychotherapy and behavioral approaches to treatment of a variety of disorders. While both professionals may use psychotherapy, only psychiatrists prescribe medication.

Training and Education

While psychiatrists undergo different education and training than psychologists, both professions can provide treatment to reduce symptoms of mental health conditions.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medications. However, only a few states allow psychologists to prescribe medications. Both psychologists and psychiatrists receive training in talk therapy. In the choice of psychologist versus psychiatrist, your decision will depend on your specific needs.


Psychologists earn their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before spending four to seven years earning a doctorate in either psychology or philosophy. They study topics including psychological research science, the history of psychological conditions and personality development. Psychology students also learn how to diagnose various emotional and mental conditions. They then move on to complete a one to two-year internship after earning their graduate degree, learning:

  • Treatment methods.
  • Behavioral therapy.
  • Psychological theories.
  • Problem-solving techniques.
  • Analytical testing.

Many states also require psychologists to complete one to two years of supervised practical work experience. Psychologists must complete practical work experience under the supervision of an authorized mental health professional to earn their license.


Psychiatrists complete medical school and receive training in general medicine. After earning their MD, they also complete four years of residency training in psychiatry. During this time, they must also fulfill the requirements set by their state licensing board.

Over the course of their residency, psychiatrists may work with adults, adolescents or children. They typically gain a great deal of experience working in hospitals’ psychiatric units and may gain experience providing psychological therapy in addition to their medical training.

Treatment Methods

Psychologists typically address emotional symptoms and behavioral patterns in patients using talk therapy. Psychiatrists address these patterns using talk therapy, similarly to psychologists, or using medication. Psychiatrists may also do medical testing. Psychologists are trained to carry out psychological testing, usually using paper and pencil tests.


Psychologists treat mental health conditions using talk therapy and focus primarily on environmental, cultural and social factors. Psychologists can work with clients as individuals, families, couples or groups.

During talk therapy, psychologists will welcome clients to share any mental health symptoms and emotional distress they experience. They will help identify negative thought patterns, environmental stressors and habits that affect mental health and use talk therapy to help clients reframe their thought patterns and practice healthy habits. Talk therapy encompasses several different treatment methods, including:

  • Mindfulness therapy.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Art therapy.
  • Psychodynamic therapy.
  • Humanistic therapy.
  • Psychoanalytic therapy.
  • Holistic therapy.

Psychologists use interviews and their observations from talk therapy sessions to diagnose clients. If they feel that a client needs more extensive testing or treatments, they will often refer them to a psychiatrist.



Psychiatrists’ medical training allows them to prescribe medications and their treatment mainly consists of medication management. Psychiatrists specialize on biological factors that can affect mental health, such as genetics and neurochemistry, to diagnose patients and determine treatment plans.

Psychiatrists will evaluate patients’ medical and family history to determine if any medications or underlying conditions may be causing symptoms. In some cases, they may order tests, such as electrocardiograms or blood tests. Psychiatrists will diagnose patients and then prescribe treatment such as medication, counseling or other treatment methods. Psychiatrists may also provide talk therapy or refer a patient to a psychologist for talk therapy.

Psychiatrists prescribe medications based on a patient’s symptoms and medical history, monitoring symptoms and side effects. In some cases, they may adjust the medication dosage or prescribe a different medication if needed. Psychiatrists can prescribe any of the following medications:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antidepressants
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Antipsychotic medications

In addition to medications, psychiatrists can also prescribe treatments such as light or Ketamine therapy. They can also prescribe brain stimulation therapies like electroconvulsive therapy and deep brain stimulation.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy can treat severe depression by stimulating the brain with magnetic pulses. Ketamine therapy uses small doses of the anesthetic ketamine to treat depression. The benefits of ketamine therapy can occur after one or several treatment rounds.

Practices in Psychology and Psychiatry

While they have different educational backgrounds and implement different treatment methods, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists often work in similar settings. Both psychologists and psychiatrists can work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Veterans hospitals
  • Private practice facilities
  • Prisons
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Hospitals
  • Veterans hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Schools and universities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Private practices

Psychiatrists can also work in psychiatric hospitals, college medical centers, nursing homes and hospice programs. Psychologists might work in mental health clinics, government agencies and counseling centers.

How Behavioral Psychology and Psychiatry Work Together

Psychology and psychiatry both treat mental health from different approaches and with different treatment methods. Some people prefer to receive talk therapy from psychologists to manage stress, anxiety, depression or other conditions. Other individuals sometimes need a diagnosis and prescribed medication to treat more severe symptoms.

Sometimes, an individual with a mental health condition can benefit from a combination of treatments. They may practice talk therapy with a psychologist and receive medication prescriptions from a psychiatrist. A psychologist treating a client with talk therapy may refer them to a psychiatrist if they believe they will benefit from medication or a psychiatric evaluation, and psychiatrists will often refer patients to psychotherapists or psychologists for talk therapy. Together, psychologists and psychiatrists can treat mental health conditions such as:

  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Whether you will benefit more from treatment with a psychologist versus a psychiatrist or vice versa, it’s important to consider your symptoms’ severity. If your symptoms are mild, you may benefit more from talk therapy with a psychologist. However, a doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist to discuss more treatment options if your symptoms significantly interfere with your everyday life.

Contact Principium for Psychiatry and Psychology Treatment

Seek treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions at Principium Psychiatry. Dr. Cohen and the team at Principium provide treatments, psychiatric therapies and services for mental health conditions, including TMS therapy and ketamine therapy.

Our qualified team of psychologists and psychiatrists will determine the best treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms. Contact Principium Psychiatry to learn more about how we can help you manage your mental health.

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