What Is the Difference Between Psychiatrists, Therapists and Psychologists?

What is the difference between a Psychiatrist, Therapist and a Psychologist? These terms are used interchangeably and considered synonymous with one another. But that is far from the truth. Though all three work together to improve the patient’s health, they are very different from one another.


A Psychiatrist, in layman’s terms, is a medical doctor who takes into account both the mental and physical aspects of a psychological problem. They diagnose mental disorders and focus on the chemical imbalances in the brain. Since they are trained physicians, a psychiatrist can order or perform both medical and psychological tests to determine the physical as well as mental state of a patient. There are times when a type of mental condition may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. A common example is brain tumors, which lead to depression, anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Not to mention personality changes, auditory and visual hallucinations and even mania. With the help of tests a psychiatrist can make a connection between the mental and physical illnesses, along with the complete family as well as a genetic history to check the medical and psychological data they can make a proper diagnosis.  This can lead to a better and more efficient treatment plan.

People may seek psychiatric help for various reasons. The problems might be sudden, such as those including panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, frightening hallucinations, hearing voices, etc. Others may be long term problems like severe anxiety, hopelessness and intense feelings of sadness. If these feelings persist and prevent a person from performing simple everyday tasks, they may need professional help. Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

There is a misconception when it comes to psychiatrists. Most people are under the impression that their only job is to prescribe a drug and whatever problem the patient has will go away. While it is true in some cases, in others there may be some form of therapy required along with medication. It is up to the doctor of the patient to decide what is best for them. They may prescribe medicine at the beginning or stop doing so after deeming that the patient does not need the drugs anymore.


To explain what a Therapist does, one has to be familiar with the concept of Therapy. The word Therapy is derived from the Latin word therapïa, which means ‘curing’ or ‘healing’. In the context of mental health, the term therapy refers to psychotherapy.

A therapist is an individual qualified to resolve behavior, belief, feelings or relationship issues that would be considered problematic. A therapist has many labels such as, social workers, guidance counselors, life coaches, physical therapists and even psychologists. Their work force range from offices, hospitals, treatment centers, schools and even group homes. But their main goal is to provide services, treatment and rehabilitation, in the field they have specialized in. e.g. professionals who engage in helping a patient overcome some form of physical handicap are known as Physical Therapists. A Child Therapist specializes in emotional, behavioral and mental disorders in children aged 17 and younger. Another kind of therapist concerns Nutritional Therapy and they offer patients dietary recommendations to help their overall health and well-being. Effectively, therapists have the ability to transform or improve people’s lives for the better.

There are many different kinds of therapies other than the most commonly known i.e. physical therapy. Music Therapy, Play Therapy, Animal-Assisted Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and these are just a handful that have been listed here. Unlike Psychiatrists, Therapists do not have the authority to recommend or prescribe any sort of medication. But they can refer the patient to a psychiatrist if the need for medication arises.


Out of all three terms, a psychologist is the one branch of Psychology that is understood the most. A Psychologist specializes in the study of behavior and mental processes. This includes, not only cognitive and emotional processes, conscious and unconscious, but also how people interact with their environments and with other people in a general or specific setting. Through psychological evaluations and face-to-face sessions, a psychologist helps people learn to better cope with life, relationship issues as well as mental health problems. They help patients handle stressful and traumatic events in their lives, fight addictions and even manage illnesses.

Just as there are different types of therapists that deal with different forms of therapies to help patients, psychologists have different types as well. One psychologist is an expert in a specific field of Psychology. For Example; study of the behavior of pilots and other flight crew members is done by an Aviation Psychologist. They also perform research on airline safety and develop new training equipment. They are also in charge of selecting suitable employees. A person trained to do that will have no dealings with Clinical Psychology, a branch where patients are assessed, diagnosed and treated as individuals experiencing some form of mental illness or psychological distress.

Wrapping Up

Psychology, Psychiatry and Therapy, are classified as branches of Psychology, but that is where the similarity ends. Psychologists study the mind, emotions and behavior, whereas psychiatry is the field of medicine that focuses on diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. Therapists are focused on improving the health of a patient through exercises, activities, tasks, serious conversations and offering professional advice. As stated, it is true that these professions overlap but the differences still stand as clear as night and day. They may be a little tricky to determine and even identify. There is no denying that all three fields have one trait in common. And that’s to improve the lives of the patient, to help them become the best and healthiest version of themselves – from boosting one’s mental and physical health to self-acceptance and self-awareness, better management of emotions, relief from any kind of mental health condition, improved ability to manage stress and conflict resolutions as well as improvement in relationships.

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