The Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychiatrist

Lindsay Knake

| 3 min read

Lindsay Knake is a brand journalist for Blue Cross Blue...

If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, where do you go?
Therapists and psychiatrists are two different types of practitioners who offer treatment and management of mental health conditions, but the two roles are not the same. 

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They can prescribe and monitor medication to help relieve symptoms of mental health conditions. Psychiatrists often treat more serious and complicated disorders such as:
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Sexual dysfunctions
A psychiatrist may prescribe:
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Sedatives and anxiolytics
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Light therapy
  • Brain stimulation therapies

What is a therapist?

A therapist is a licensed professional who provides short- or long-term therapy to help people manage their mental health. They can use therapeutic methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Psychotherapy can involve more thoroughly excavating past experiences to see how they impact the present and current patterns of behavior. It might mean talking to a therapist in-depth about your childhood or traumatic experiences, which may have contributed to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health disorders.
Someone may see both a psychiatrist and a therapist to manage their mental health.

What kind of strategies do therapists use?

You may find therapists use several different methods, depending on your needs and preferences. Common method include:
  • CBT: a therapy that uncovers unhelpful ways of thinking and patterns of behavior in order to change them, according to the American Psychological Association.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT is closely related to CBT, but particularly helps people manage intense emotions.
  • Internal Family Systems (IFS): IFS is an evidence-based approach that helps you to identify and understand the different internal parts of yourself in order to heal and grow, according to the IFS Institute. A licensed therapist or counselor who has training may use IFS, also known as parts work.
  • EMDR: a therapy that uses eye movement or external stimulation to heal from trauma.
When choosing a therapist and or a psychiatrist to work with, it is most important to find an individual you trust and feel comfortable with. Reviewing a practitioner’s website to see their specialties and having an initial session to explore fit is a good way to start finding the right person.
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
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association