Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist: What's the Difference?

Taylar Kobylas

| 2 min read

Can you describe the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? If you don't even want to try, you're not alone. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy Health literacy, only 12 percent of adults have "proficient" health literacy. We know that understanding health care is crucial to our ability to effectively use it. So whether you currently struggle with mental health issues or not, it's important to know the basics. For starters, let's figure out the difference between these two types of doctors.

So what is the difference?

Psychiatrists and psychologists primarily vary because of their educational backgrounds. According to mental health expert Dr. Charles Raison, "Psychiatrists are medical doctors who complete a residency after medical school. Psychologists are Ph.D.s who do a clinical internship after getting their degrees."

Do they practice differently?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They tend to focus on the diagnosis and treatment of mental issues with medications or other medical intervention. Psychologists usually follow the same system for diagnoses, but treat patients with psychotherapy, hypnosis or a different form of relief that does not require medication.

Which specialist should I see?

That depends. Psychiatrists typically treat those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and paranoia. Psychologists tend to treat patients with less extreme anxiety and mood disorders. They provide more common care like couples therapy and mild depression treatment.

What else should I know about these doctors?

As a rule, psychologists tend to spend more time with their patients and form a more emotional relationship together through extensive therapy sessions. Though talk therapy is a component of pychiatrists' work, they tend to be more clinical by focusing on the combination of your mental and physical well-being, lab tests, brain imaging and the effects of prescribed drugs on their patients. If you think visiting one of these doctors may be a good choice for you, consult your primary care physician. To find a psychiatrist or psychologist in your area, use the BCBSM Find a Doctor tool. Looking for more information on mental health treatment? You may want to read these posts:
Photo credit: Brian Hillegas
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association