When it comes to mental health, there are many different options. You may have heard of psychiatrists, therapists, psychologists, counselors, and many other names for mental health professionals, but many people aren’t sure what the differences are. Although some of these terms are used interchangeably, they actually define different people in the field.
Therapists and psychiatrists both help people work through mental and emotional problems, but they have different backgrounds and methods that they use. A therapist looks at the patient as a whole and uses talk therapy to help them work through their emotions and problems. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medications to help people.
Both of these professionals do much more; continue reading to learn what makes them different.
What Is a Therapist?
A therapist is anyone who is licensed to provide psychotherapy to people. It can also refer to people who provide physical training, but in mental health, they are professionals who have an education and training, as well as licensure, to help people talk through their mental and emotional problems.
Most of the time, they are unable to prescribe medication, so they will work with a licensed doctor who can. They tend to talk to patients and help them understand why they feel certain ways. They help the patient discover how they might make changes to achieve a different outcome.
Different Types of Therapists
In general, a therapist is licensed as a counselor, social worker, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, or psychologist. Many psychiatrists are not therapists because they don’t offer talk therapy; they prescribe medication and other medical treatments. However, some do offer clinical treatments, such as talk therapy.
Some of the licensed therapists’ specialties are as follows:
- Marriage and family counselors
- Substance abuse and addiction counselors
- Behavioral disorder counselors
- School counselors
- Mental health counselors
- Clinical social workers
Psychologists have a doctoral degree, and they have often completed as many as 12 years of schooling. Although psychologists who offer talk therapy are therapists, most people are referring to counselors when they use the term therapist.
What Is a Psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist has a medical degree, and they can diagnose medical conditions and prescribe medication. Most of the time, they diagnose, treat, and work to prevent mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, sleep disorders, substance abuse, bipolar, and more.
Some psychiatrists do offer talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, and they can prescribe medications. These meds might include sedatives, antidepressants, hypnotics, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and stimulants. A psychiatrist who uses talk therapy is often called a therapist, but they still have been to medical school. They often work with other types of therapists to treat patients.
Similarities Between Therapists and Psychiatrists
The primary similarity between therapists and psychiatrists is that they both work with patients to improve their mental health. They approach it in different ways, but they have the same goals. If a psychiatrist offers talk therapy, they are often called a therapist. However, there are some psychiatrists who are not therapists, and there are many therapists who are not psychiatrists.
Differences Between Therapists and Psychiatrists
There are several differences between therapists and psychiatrists. Both of these mental health professionals spend their time helping patients improve their emotional and mental well-being, but they have different approaches. Take a look at some of the most profound differences.
Therapists and psychiatrists have different educational backgrounds. There are different types of therapists, and they have different levels of education. However, most have a master’s or doctoral degree. Different states require different education and certification, so it will vary.
Some therapists hold a master’s degree in social work or counseling, whereas others have a Ph.D. in psychology. No matter what degree, they usually go through supervised training before taking the exam for their licenses.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has a degree from a medical school. They have also gone through a psychiatric residency and passed the boards in their state. The exams are both oral and written, allowing them to be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
A psychiatrist has gone through medical school and a psychiatric residency, and they have learned all about the body, the brain, and the nervous system. They understand how the body and the brain work. Therapists also have clinical experience and training before they start working, and they understand mental health and strategies for patients.
Both therapists and psychiatrists can treat patients using talk therapy. However, psychiatrists can prescribe medication because they are medical doctors. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and they often work with a therapist to treat patients.
Psychiatrists look at relationships between the anatomy of the mind and the body and how they work together. They understand medications and how they can help. They can prescribe antipsychotics, antidepressants, anxiety meds, and more to help people cope.
Psychiatrists are also called on to diagnose conditions. They have extensive training in medicine, so they know how other medical conditions can impact your mental health. For example, people with low energy and difficulty sleeping may be suffering from a vitamin deficiency or a hormonal imbalance.
On the other hand, therapists treat patients through talk therapy. They talk through your mental health issues and emotions and help you discover ways to improve your life. As long as you don’t have biological factors causing your mental health issues, a therapist can help. The important thing is to understand that you can do talk therapy with a therapist, but you will want to see a psychiatrist if you need medication.
Both therapists and psychiatrists can specialize in different aspects of mental health care. Therapists can be counselors, social workers, psychologists, or any other mental health professional who uses talk therapy to help patients. Take a look at some of the areas where they may focus.
- Addiction: They help people work through addiction to drugs or alcohol. They can help patients learn how to develop coping skills and build a support system.
- Anxiety: Many people suffer from anxiety, and therapists can help patients manage it.
- Couples therapy: They help couples work through strains on their relationship.
- Depression: They help people learn how to cope with feelings and change negative thinking.
- Eating disorders: They help people develop a healthier relationship with food and body image.
- Family therapy: They help people with communication and other ways to improve family relationships.
- LGBTQ: They help people in the LBGTQ community with any concerns.
- Grief: They help people deal with loss and feelings of hopelessness.
- Personality disorders: They help people cope with personality disorders.
- Teen: They help teens handle pressure, self-esteem issues, and more.
- Trauma: They help people process emotions related to trauma.
These are some of the specialties that therapists can help with. They are often licensed in their specialties, such as family counseling or addiction. The best way to find out is to ask the therapist what experience they have, training, and treatment style.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors, but they can specialize as well. They can treat patients in an office or at a hospital. They can treat the following conditions:
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Eating disorders
- Mood disorders
- Personality disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Learning disabilities
The field of psychiatry is essentially a bridge from psychology to neurology. They use a biopsychosocial model to diagnose patients. This approach assesses the impact of an event on a patient and looks at symptoms.
Psychiatrists also do the following;
- Mental status examination: This is a clinical assessment that evaluates psychological function in a patient.
- Biomedical diagnosis: Another name for this is a differential diagnosis, where the psychiatrist uses testing to eliminate different conditions.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy, and it is where they talk with patients to discover thoughts, behaviors, experiences, and other factors in how they are feeling.
- Psychiatric medications: Medications are often used to help patients manage symptoms. However, many of these drugs are regulated, and when two or more are used, they may need regular adjustments.
- Other treatments: This could include deep brain stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy, psychosurgery, and more.
In addition, they have a number of subspecialties, including the following:
- Addiction psychiatry
- Adolescent and child psychiatry
- Forensic psychiatry
- Geriatric psychiatry
- Occupational psychiatry
- Psychosomatic medicine
How Do Therapists and Psychiatrists Work Together?
Therapists and psychiatrists often work together to treat patients. The therapist will engage in talk therapy to address the causes of the problems, whereas the psychiatrists may make diagnoses and prescribe medications to help with symptoms. They can work together to offer patients the best possible treatment.
Patients will often see the therapist every week, and then they will see the psychiatrist once a month. The two professionals will collaborate to make sure that the patient is getting the best possible treatment. This is especially important for people who benefit from taking medication in conjunction with talk therapy.
Should You See a Therapist, a Psychiatrist, or Both?
One question that people often have is which type of mental health professional they should see. When people first decide to go to a mental health professional, they don’t always know what they need. No matter what is going on, it is important to talk to a professional and listen to what they advise.
When you start out, you may want to meet with a therapist to discuss how you are feeling. They can listen and help you talk through the situation. They use talk therapy, and some people improve just by talking through their feelings and learning how to change their thinking.
If you need medication to deal with panic attacks or severe depression, you will want to see a psychiatrist. Your therapist can recommend it, or you can decide to explore this option on your own. If you want or need medication, you may see a therapist and check in with the psychiatrist once a month to make sure that the medication is doing its job.
Signs That a Psychiatrist May Be the Right Option
Sometimes a patient is getting somewhere with therapy, but they may need a psychiatrist to help examine the whole body. For example, someone may experience a mood disorder that is the result of hormonal changes or a vitamin deficiency. It is important to rule out the physical causes of different mental disorders. A psychiatrist can order blood work and other medical exams that help diagnose the patient.
If a patient is suffering from depression in a way that is impacting their daily life, they can see a psychiatrist to find out if medication can help. If a patient is struggling with a mental health issue, a psychiatrist can recommend that they be hospitalized. This often happens after an attempt at suicide or an incident with drugs and alcohol.
When a mental health issue is having a debilitating impact on a person’s life, a psychiatrist may be the right choice. Medications can help restore balance to the body and improve symptoms. They can help with psychotic breaks, anxiety, depression, and more.
How to Choose a Therapist
Finding the right therapist is important to the success of therapy. Make sure that you start off by finding someone who is recommended by a trusted source. Be sure to think about what you want to get out of therapy before you go. You will be able to gain more if you know what your goals are and can share them with your therapist.
Once you understand your goals, make sure that you look for a psychiatrist if you want to try medication for your symptoms. Some people have panic attacks, and they know that they want to use medication to learn how to cope.
Interview therapists to make sure that it’s a good fit. You should prepare the questions that you want to ask to learn how they plan to help. Find out how long they have practiced and how much experience they have in this area. Find out what types of treatments they use. The more you ask upfront, the fewer surprises you will have later on.
Finally, when you are in your meeting, you should reflect on your feelings. Make sure that you feel comfortable, and go with your instincts. If you want to get the most out of therapy, you need to feel optimistic about the therapist.
Many different people work in mental health care, and they have different titles. It is important to understand the differences so that you can choose the one best suited to help you.