What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

Seeking out a mental health medical professional is the right first step to achieving your desired state of mental health. But which one will better serve your needs – a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

The names sound nearly the same. There can’t be much difference, right?

Not quite. While there are a number of similarities – most importantly, both will work with you to achieve good mental health outcomes – they have different educational backgrounds, approaches, and practices.

Both psychiatrists and psychologists can carry the title “doctor” – at a minimum, a psychiatrist is always a medical doctor (MD), and a psychologist may have a master’s degree or a doctorate in psychology.

Let’s take a look at some more differences between a psychiatrist and psychologist to help you decide who is best for you:

What Is a Psychiatrist?


A psychiatrist undergoes eight years of education after earning their bachelor’s degree to become an MD. Following four years of medical school, the future psychiatrist must complete four years of residency training at a general hospital or psychiatric department.


Many psychiatrists pursue further training to focus on a specific area such as pediatric or adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, or psychiatry of the elderly, among others. These are called psychiatric subspecialties, and the doctor is required to spend two to three extra years in an internship or residency program in that area of choice.


The psychiatrist approaches mental health from a medical perspective, focusing for example on the chemistry of the brain and how it relates to a patient’s condition. Rarely do they spend their sessions only doing talk therapy, although they are very interested in hearing about your progress and reactions to medications, if you are being prescribed.


The psychiatrist is able to diagnose and manage the effects of organic (physical) diseases on the mental health and functioning of an individual, such as those caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as strokes.


As an MD, a psychiatrist can write prescriptions and will periodically monitor patients’ progress under medications. This is not the case with psychologists, who are not MDs and cannot therefore prescribe medications to a patient.

What Is a Psychologist?


After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or related field, the psychologist-in-training enters a graduate program of two to three years to obtain a master’s degree. This may be followed by a doctoral program that lasts about three years, in which the psychologist will earn a PhD or a PsyD.

Specialized Training

Several states require psychologists to spend one to two extra years in an internship or under supervised practice before becoming fully licensed. The psychologist will then specialize in a field such as substance abuse treatment, child or adult psychology, or couples therapy, among many others. Some psychologists specialize in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, and alcoholism.


The approach to mental health and care used by a psychologist is quite different from that of a psychiatrist. The work conducted by a psychologist used to be defined as “talk therapy,” which is a fairly accurate description. Psychological therapy explores the patient’s life history and experiences, how they shape the way a patient sees himself or herself, and how the patient perceives the surrounding world.

Trusted Psychiatrist in Connecticut

The public attitude toward mental health issues has changed drastically in recent decades thanks in part to increased awareness and activism on the part of veterans, educational professionals, celebrities, and mental health professionals.

An experienced psychiatrist such as Dr. Stracks can evaluate you or a loved one, make a diagnosis, prescribe treatment, and conduct follow-up visits. To schedule a psychiatric evaluation, please call our office today at (203) 405-1745 or request an appointment online. We look forward to seeing you.

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