What is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychiatrist?

What is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychiatrist?

Corey Rose

Boy sitting with psychiatrist in costa mesa office

Both therapists and psychiatrists provide mental health treatment to patients who need it. However, there are some key differences between their professions. Let’s explore all the nitty-gritty, so you can feel better prepared seeking out the right type of help for you.

Therapists Versus Psychiatrists

Both therapists and psychiatrists help patients who are looking to overcome mental illness. The techniques and methods used by these parties, however, may differ. The same will be true for their education and the certifications they have.

Therapists

The term “therapist” is an all-encompassing term meant to describe all parties who engage in a communicative treatment of mental illness. The term “therapist” can be used to describe:

  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Other licensed professionals who operate tangentially to the medical field

 

Parties within this field can receive a masters in counselling or a similar type of higher education. However, they are not considered to be medical professionals.

Psychiatrists

In contrast, psychiatrists are seen as active within the medical field. These parties are required to get a medical degree before assuming their practice. More often than not, professionals who become psychiatrists have to spend a few years completing an in-hospital residency before they're able to strike out on their own.

This is good news. It means they have a broad range of experience. They’ve likely worked with both:

  • Industry professionals
  • Parties that may have experienced conditions similar to the ones that you or a loved one is enduring

 

With that kind of education on hand, psychiatrists can address your individual concerns before treating your mental illness via prescriptions and treatment plans.

Psychiatrists and therapists can work together to help a patient overcome or treat a mental illness. There are certain limitations placed on each professional, however, due to the constraints of each field.

What Can Psychiatrists Do?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors. Like a primary care doctor, psychiatrists can prescribe medications and design treatment plans meant to help a patient treat a mental illness.

In this vein, psychiatrists will approach conversations about mental illness from a scientific perspective. Of course, these parties may sit down with a patient and discuss, for example, what conditions led to you experiencing something like anxiety. However, a psychiatrist will go about treating this condition via medication instead of therapy.

Licensed psychiatrists can provide patients with medical treatment plans for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Classified mental disorders

 

Let’s put it another way: a therapist can talk a patient through an anxiety disorder or an eating disorder, but that therapist may not have the authority to provide you with any medications or medical treatment. This may be necessary for you to recover from your condition.

Instead, this responsibility falls to a psychiatrist who has been certified through the American Psychiatric Association. In that case, the easiest way to tell the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist is to determine whether or not the party you’re visiting can write prescriptions.

What Can Therapists Do?

Prescriptions may be off the table, but therapists can still provide patients with access to a wide range of essential mental health treatments and services. There are several different types of therapists, including:

  • Family therapists
  • Marriage therapists
  • Child and adolescent therapists
  • Life coaches
  • Professional counselors

 

In most circumstances, these parties sit down with their patients and discuss the problems that have been plaguing them on a day-to-day basis. These can include difficulties with marriage and family, substance abuse, and more.

As mentioned, therapists can also address issues like anxiety disorders and eating disorders from a psychological perspective. For example, if a patient suffers from panic attacks, a licensed counselor can help them understand what triggers they may have and how best a patient can avoid them.

Therapists can also provide patients with online counseling, especially if the party in question does not feel comfortable leaving the house or is otherwise unable to do so.

Which Mental Healthcare Professional Should You Visit?

If you find yourself contending with some manner of mental health challenge, you may be confused about where to start or what treatment plan you might need. The options can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t feel comfortable determining what kind of help you need without professional guidance.

With that in mind, you can reach out to the mental health professionals in your area to set up consultations.

Do You Need Therapy?

Do you feel like the challenge you’re dealing with is socially-oriented? Then you may find the tools you need to cope in talk therapy.

In turn, you can find a counselor experienced with the problem you’re facing and speak with them on a regular basis. Even if you’re just looking for someone to discuss your challenges with, regardless of a mental health diagnosis, a therapist can walk you through both the problem at hand and the solutions you may be able to take advantage of.

Do You Need A Psychiatrist?

However, it may turn out that talk therapy isn’t enough to help you address the problems that you’re contending with. In that case, you can ask your therapist for psychiatrist recommendations.

With a recommendation on hand, you can reach out to a medical professional in your area. They may be able to identify bodily reasons for the problems that you face on a regular basis.

Of course, be sure to note that, before you work with a psychiatrist, you’ll want to disclose any history of substance abuse you may have, as well as a list of medications you’re taking at the moment.

When addressing mental illness from a psychiatrist’s perspective, both you and the professionals on your team have to account for any interaction between the medications you want to take and those you are using or have used in the past.

Therapists, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists, Oh My!

Contending with your mental health is challenging, even on a good day. Luckily, there are dozens of resources available to you online and in-person that are designed to help you overcome these challenges.

If you’re not sure where to start looking, you can explore local options as well as those recommended by your general practitioner. And of course, if you're anywhere near Orange County, then get in touch!

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