Recognising when you or a loved one may be struggling is one of the first steps towards recovery. Seeking help from those around you, including medical professionals, can be a helpful strategy for managing these struggles. However this process may feel daunting or confusing. This article aims to provide a clearer picture of the two medical professionals that one may seek out for help: psychologists and psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are fully-qualified medical doctors who can diagnose, treat and prevent mental illnesses. Treatment will typically take a biomedical approach, which means that it is mainly based on providing suitable medication for an individual’s needs. Some medications that a psychiatrist can prescribe are antidepressants, mood-stabilisers and antipsychotics. A psychiatrist may also specialise further in their field towards specific areas, such as addiction medicine, forensics.

Psychologists

Psychologists also have qualifications in assessment, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses. However they differ in that they can not provide medicine. Typically, a psychologist will provide more of a treatment that is focused on an individual’s mind and emotions, as opposed to biological processes. Forms of therapy that a psychologist may provide include cognitive behaviour therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy.

Psychologists vs Psychiatrists

The following list summarises some differences between psychologists and psychiatrists:

  • Psychiatrists, unlike psychologists, are qualified to prescribe medicine
  • Psychologists will provide a greater focus on psychological and social factors in an individual’s life
  • Psychiatrists typically provide treatment for more severe cases that may require medication, such as major depression disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder.  
  • Psychiatrists can provide assessments using lab tests, psychological tests or one-on-one evaluations. Psychologists, on the other hand, mostly provide talk-based evaluations (one-on-one with the therapist, family or group therapy).


Psychologists and psychiatrists are also similar in some aspects, including:

  • Treating clients who may be having mental health issues
  • Being able to work in similar settings, such as hospitals, prisons and schools
  • Having obtained a license to practice their profession

It is important to note that despite using slightly different approaches, both psychologists and psychiatrists play a crucial role in helping a client with their mental health issues. Depending on an individual’s circumstances, visiting one of these mental health professionals can greatly improve one’s management of their mental health.