Psychotherapists Vs. Psychiatrists Vs. Psychologists: What's The Difference

April 25, 2021

Often, people tend to mix up the terms psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. While there may considerably overlap in their functions—working to improve a patient's mental health—people working in these roles tend to deal with different types of problems.  So what are the real difference between these professions?

What Is A Psychotherapist?

A psychotherapist is a licensed mental health professional—a psychiatrist or psychologist who has undergone further training in psychotherapy. A psychotherapist helps people overcome stress, emotional problems, resolve challenges in their relationship, and overcome bad habits. They conduct therapies with individuals, groups, couples, and families.

What Is A Psychologist?

A psychologist specializes in behavioral patterns and mental processes, from emotional and cognitive processes to how people relate with other people and their immediate environments. The discipline of psychology covers all that. A psychologist also helps a patient to understand different life problems and how to handle them.

What Is A Psychiatrist?

Like its professional cousin, psychologists, a psychiatrist specializes in the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental issues. Usually, a psychiatrist can be a medical doctor, or physician, with a degree in medicine. Their functions revolve around diagnosing mental disorders and focusing on chemical imbalances in the brain. They operate in between the line of assessing the mental and physical effects of a disorder.

Difference Between Psychotherapist, Psychologist, And Psychiatrist

Aside from the difference in their names, the significant difference between these three distinct but closely related professions is best summed up under,

  • Education/Training
  • Method Of Treatment
  • Treatments Provided



A psychotherapist should have some level of training in psychotherapy. To become a psychotherapist, one needs to have a degree (either in medicine, psychology, social work, or mental health) and received additional training at the postgraduate level. The postgraduate training towards becoming a psychologist can go on for up to 3 years. This additional training is essential as it ensures reliability and effectiveness in carrying out therapy sessions.

Therapists require a mandatory extra qualification other than a first degree. A master's degree is required, and approval from the state licensing board to practice in the mental health field is needed.

Method Of Treatment

There are many psychotherapeutic methods including,

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Psychoanalytic therapy
  • Humanistic therapy
  • Dialectal Behavioral Therapy
  • Hypno-psychotherapy
  • Arts and play therapies
  • Systemic and family psychotherapy

It is expected that a psychotherapist will specialize in one specific method. But it's not out of place to see psychotherapists that can handle more than one method.

A psychotherapist can work in hospitals, treatment centers, or offices, provide mental health diagnoses, and develop treatment plans.

Treatments Provided

A psychotherapist is well trained to offer proper solutions and therapy to many mental problems like depression, anxiety, or more severe disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder. All in all, the role of a psychotherapist starts and ends in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with psychiatric illnesses. They cannot prescribe any medication, but they can always refer you for evaluation, medication, or other treatments.



Medical Psychologists go beyond studying and obtaining a university degree in Psychology. From earning an undergraduate major to a master, and a doctorate in psychology, a  practicing psychologist, must earn an advanced degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology (especially a doctoral degree in clinical counseling school psychology). These advanced degrees take an additional six to seven years of graduate school. In some cases, a two-year internship may be needed.

Method Of Treatment

First, a psychologist is not meant to treat patients. Although a psychologist has a theoretical basis, his or her training doesn't stretch to treating or counseling patients. Psychologists are not medically qualified to do so. However, a few fractions of psychologists can still work with patients. That said, psychologists work to help people understand different life problems and mental health challenges and teach people how to handle these challenges. And thanks to the additional years they spend in learning, they can diagnose disorders or problems independently in their clients. One of the most profound types of treatment used by psychologists is psychotherapy or talk therapy.

Treatment Provided

A psychologist helps patients to handle stress, addictions, illnesses, and mental issues. People often seek help from psychologists for traumatic experiences, the death of a loved one, or long-term anxiety. A psychologist can diagnose and treat mental disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues. They can also offer treatment for acute and chronic problems.



Psychiatrists are medical doctors or physicians who have qualified in psychiatry. After earning a medical degree, they go for an additional residency in psychiatry that can take up to four years. They can also go for a fellowship in a sub-specialty.

Method Of Treatment

Psychiatrists usually work in hospitals or clinics, sometimes with a team of other psychiatrists or psychotherapists. Although they are not expected to provide psychotherapy, some psychiatrists may offer very brief, supportive psychotherapy to their clients.

Psychiatrists, like medical doctors, can prescribe medication as well as counseling. They can also refer a patient to a psychologist or psychotherapist for additional treatment and counseling.

Treatment Provided

Unlike psychotherapists and psychologists, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. They work in more severe cases of mental disorders. Also, they assess the mental and physical effects of a disorder. They focus on diagnoses, management, and prevention of mental health problems.

Bottom Line

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists may not be the same. Still, they work closely together to help diagnose and treat mental disorders. Working together, these mental health professionals can offer you the best possible solution and care to any mental health issue—allowing you to feel better.

Psyche Health Queens is out to make you feel better—a place for the best treatment and counseling in NYC. Contact us today at 106-15 Queens Blvd #C15 Queens, NY 11375, to request an appointment with a mental health professional.

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