The Difference Between Therapists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists

Dr. Kristyn Gregory

| 3 min read

Dr. Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Dr. Gregory received her medical degree from the Chicago School of Osteopathic Medicine. She then completed residency training in Adult Psychiatry at Henry Ford, and a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Wayne State University. She is board-certified in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She has practiced in a variety of settings in the metro Detroit area including inpatient, residential, outpatient, school-based and juvenile justice programs.

Patient and therapist talking
More than 43 million Americans are living with some type of mental health disorder. It’s a growing epidemic that can affect anyone regardless of race, gender or economic background. If you're considering seeking mental health treatment, here are some things you should know.

Treatment Options

The first step to managing mental health is choosing the right professional. These are trained individuals with various skills to help them identify and treat specific disorders. It’s crucial to know the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist and a therapist.
  • Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders. They can distinguish underlying conditions that may impact both mental and physical health. As physicians, they may also prescribe medication and work closely with a therapist on treatment goals.
  • Psychologist: Like a psychiatrist, a psychologist can diagnose and recommend treatment such as talk therapy in an individual or group setting. Psychologists are required to have a minimum of a master’s degree and may perform clinical research at a college or university. They are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication for patients.
  • Therapist: Therapist is an umbrella term for professionals who practice therapy such as cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic and interpersonal. They diagnose disorders, provide emotional support, and help patients to better understand their feelings. Therapists cannot prescribe medication but employ various techniques to improve coping skills.

Choosing Your Professional

Mental health is an extremely diverse field. Due to a variety of practices and methods, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Seeking a professional can be intimidating, but it is important to be open, honest and an active participant in the process.
  • Acknowledge Symptoms: Take note of the different symptoms and actions that need to be addressed. Are they mostly physical or mental? Can they be treated with talk therapy, medication or both? Identifying the problem is essential to finding the solution.
  • Choose the Type of Therapist: Mental health is very personal. Therefore, individual circumstances and needs may vary. Look at each professional’s capabilities to determine the best fit.
  • Conduct Research: Always do a background check. Most therapists’ education and license information are available to the public. Understanding their specialty and experience level can help narrow the search. Also, check for patient reviews. They provide personal insight that goes beyond a degree or certificate.
  • Save the Date: Make an appointment and stick to it. Allow ample time to arrive and prepare for the visit. Be clear on what your goals are and do not be afraid to ask questions. Remember: This is a team effort. Active patients tend to receive better treatment and more positive results.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:

PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382

  • A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.

HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982

  • Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
  • Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at About the author: Dr. Kristyn Gregory, DO, is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. More from MIBluesPerspectives:
Photo credit: Seventy Four
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association