The Difference Between A Psychiatrist, Psychologist, and Psychotherapist

Highlighting the differences between the three disciplines

The following high-level overview showcases the differences and similarities between psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, and concludes with a list of applicable resources. If you are considering seeking professional help, this explanation may assist you in choosing a suitable discipline. Your doctor can assist you in selecting the type of care most suited to you.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D) who specializes in mental health, including substance use and disorders.

Psychiatrists are multi-faceted. They’re able to diagnose underlying medical and complex psychiatric conditions, to prescribe medications, and administer somatic therapies (e.g., electroconvulsive therapy or ECT). There is a common misconception that psychiatrists only prescribe meds. The falsehood is mainly due to the current set up of the health care system. provides a more in-depth overview of the profession:

psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems, prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment.


In North America, the total amount of schooling required is between 12–15 years, including four years’ undergrad in science, two years prep for medical school, and an additional four years in medical school. The psychiatric student must have a postgraduate education certification before applying for a Postgraduate Residency. Postgrad takes another four years for a psychiatrist to train in diagnosis, psychopharmacology, mental health treatment, and other aspects of medical care.

Types of Psychiatrists and Disorders Treated 

  1. Adolescent psychiatrists care for youth under the age of 18. They focus on disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity, major depression, and autism, asperger syndrome.
  2. General adult psychiatrists focus on the age group between 18–65 and treat schizophrenia, disorders such as anxiety, attention, personality, adjustment, psychotic, and bipolar.
  3. An Addiction psychiatrist treatsdrugs, alcohol, sex, gambling addictions, eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating.
  4. Disaster psychiatrists aid patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, and major depressive disorders. Patients can be witnesses of violent crimes, such as sex crimes, murders, terrorist attacks or mass shootings
  5. Geriatric psychiatrists center their work withelderly patients who experience dementia, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and also practice in hospice and palliative medicine.

Integration of Other Practices

A psychiatrist sometimes combines psychotherapy or modes of “talk therapy” to build the therapist-patient relationship in parallel with prescribing medication and making behavioral observations.

Average Cost Per Session — $100 to $300 USD

Young psychologist woman and mother with boy patient in therapy session


Psychologists focus extensively on treating emotional and mental suffering in patients using behavioral intervention. They often work in medical settings; however, they are not physicians and cannot prescribe medications. The National Center for Biotechnology Information provides a concise overview of the role of a psychologist as someone who can:

assess, diagnose, and treat the psychological problems and the behavioral dysfunctions resulting from, or related to physical and mental health. In addition, they play a major role in the promotion of healthy behavior, preventing diseases and improving patients’ quality of life.

In addition to the above explanation, the Canadian Psychological Association describes a psychologist as an individual who studies:

how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and apply this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behavior.


The amount of training required to become a psychologist depends upon the field of study. (See focus areas below). For example, a clinical psychologist requires an undergraduate degree of four to five years. A doctorate is then required ranging from an additional four to seven years of graduate school. On average, psychologists must attend 8–12 years of university education.

Types of Psychologists and Focus Areas

While many varieties of psychologists exist, the following shortlist is specific to human health and well-being.

  1. Clinical psychologists aid clients in their identification of emotional, mental, and behavioral challenges in their lives. Through observation, interviews, and tests, the psychologist will diagnose existing or potential psychological, emotional, or behavioral issues.
  2. Cognitive psychologists investigate how people think, including topics such as decision-making and problem-solving. This type of psychologist is interested in how the brain processes, learns, stores, recognizes, and utilizes information. Specializations include memory, language development, attention, problem-solving, or learning disabilities.
  3. Developmental psychologists study how and why human beings change throughout their life. Initially concerned with infants and children, the field has expanded to include adolescence, adult development, aging, and the entire lifespan. Developmental psychologists aim to explain how thinking, feeling, and behaviors change throughout life. This field examines change across three major dimensions: physical development, cognitive development, and social-emotional development.
  4. Health psychologists study how biological, psychological, and social factors affect overall health and wellness. Many practitioners focus their skills further in subspecialties, including behavioral assessment and intervention, pain management and illness prevention, or health care reform.
  5. Personality Psychologists help patients with personality disorders. They look at how a patient’s personality affects the way they deal with the world around them. This branch of psychology researches how various characters cause people to act in social situations, how they react to other people, how they cope with problems, and how they handle the stress in their lives.

Integration of Other Practices

Similar to psychiatrists, psychologists also combine psychotherapeutic practices with their clients to enhance the bond between therapist and patient.

Average Cost Per Session — $80 to $150 USD


A psychotherapist offers clients a range of treatments to help with mental health problems, emotional challenges, and some psychiatric disorders.

The modality enables patients to understand their feelings, develop a mind-body connection, and to know when and why they feel positive, anxious, or depressed. Psychotherapy equips people to cope with stressful situations in a more adaptive way. A psychotherapist can utilize experiential or experimental modes of treatment. further depicts the process:

Sessions may be one-to-one, in pairs, or in groups. Techniques can include other forms of communication, such as drama, narrative story, or music.


While requirements differ slightly between the United States and Canada, in general, an individual must have an undergraduate degree of three years. Next, an additional four to five years of graduate studies is necessary. For example, to become a certified psychotherapy practitioner within Ontario, Canada, an individual must have 1000 clinical hours completed to apply to the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). Similar requirements exist in the United States and other provinces and territories in Canada.

Types of Psychotherapists and Disorders Treated

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapists (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy. CBT helps clients to become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking and view challenging situations more clearly and learn skills to respond in practical ways. CBT is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. Three examples are: treating mental illness when medications aren’t a good option, learning techniques for coping with stressful life situations and identifying ways to manage emotions.
  2. Gestalt psychotherapists help clients integrate the mind and body, to learn the skills to take personal responsibility for their lives and to live in the present moment. Therapy is a method of self-exploration, a mode of truth-telling, and for patients to see themselves as real, physical beings. This new way of being will allow the individual to think more broadly and expand his or her expression of being alive. One key objective is for the psychotherapist to work with clients to improve the quality of their interactions with others.
  3. Psychodynamic therapists workwith a variety of methods such as psychoanalysishypnosis, and uncovering techniques. These types of psychotherapies interpret unconscious processes and provide insights into the root causes of a client’s difficulties. The client will speak freely about their thoughts and feelings, and the psychotherapist delves into memories that may yield an understanding of present problems. Clients with a wide range of challenges undertake this type of therapy.
  4. Interpersonal psychotherapists (IPT) take clients through a brief, attachment-focused treatment that centers on resolving interpersonal problems and symptomatic recovery. It is an empirically supported treatment that follows a highly structured and time-limited approach and is intended to be completed within 12–16 weeks. It has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for depression and has modified to treat other psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, bulimia nervosa, post-partum depression, and major depressive disorder
  5. Group Psychotherapists lead a group of five to 15 patients for an hour or two each week. This type of psychotherapy allows clients to work through their challenges by interacting with a therapist and a group of individuals with similar struggles. Group therapy is held in a safe, confidential setting where members share personal experiences, feelings, and receive feedback and support from the rest of the participants. Clients benefit from developing communication, own awareness, and socialization skills, and learn how to express their issues and accept criticism from others. Many groups target a specific challenge, such as depression, obesity, panic disorder, social anxiety, chronic pain, or substance abuse. Other groups focus more generally on improving social skills, helping people deal with a range of issues such as anger, shyness, loneliness, and low self-esteem.

Integration of Other Practices

Psychotherapists are not doctors and, in general, do not diagnose, nor can a practitioner prescribe drugs to patients. Some psychotherapists are trained in specific areas of psychology and provide both services. Since psychotherapy has a wide range of modalities, in general, psychiatrists and psychologists borrow from the psychotherapy field.

Average Cost Per Session — $100 — $300 USD

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Lisa Bradburn
Lisa Bradburn
Lisa is a student of Gestalt Psychotherapy in her third year of five. Spanning a twenty-year career, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies and start-ups coaching technology teams to be empowered, accountable, and purpose-driven. Lisa is naturally drawn to themes close to her heart; leadership, socialization, adoption, and conflict resolution. Today she lives at Rice Lake in the beautiful Kawartha area of Southern Ontario, Canada, with her German Jagd-Terrier dog Astor.


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Lisa currently studies Gestalt psychotherapy and is entering her third year of five. She works for Fortune 500 corporations and coaches technology teams to be empowered, accountable, and purpose-driven. Lisa is naturally drawn to themes close to her heart; tech addictions, adoption, socialization, conflict resolution.

Lisa is also a part of the Medika Life family. She is an assistant editor with Medika, offering invaluable assistance with Medika's social media platforms and the editorial process for BeingWell, our Medium publication. Connect with Lisa and follow her below.


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