Therapist Versus Psychiatrist: What's The Difference?

Mental health is important. When it comes to caring for our mental wellbeing, it can feel overwhelming trying to manage self-care, sleep, and stress on a day-to-day basis. People may choose to pursue mental health care for any number of reasons. Some may wish to adapt coping skills, others may want to learn how to regulate certain behaviors, and some may be looking for ways to manage symptoms of a mental health disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness is experienced by 1 in every 5 adults annually in the United States.

When searching for a mental health provider, it can be difficult to know where to start. From counselors to life coaches to primary care physicians, there are many different routes one can take (via Healthy Minds NYC). Further complicating the search is that many mental health providers have specialties. If you know you are looking for a specialist who can help with something specific, such as anxiety or depression, this can be helpful in narrowing down your search. If you're not sure what kind of mental health provider would be the best fit, there are some basic distinctions between 2 major types of mental health providers — therapists and psychiatrists — that may help point you in the right direction.

Education, services, and specialties can vary

While there may be some overlap in the services that therapists and psychiatrists provide, there are differences unique to each profession, one being educational background. According to Healthy Minds NYC, to be a psychiatrist, one must complete 4 years of medical school, as well as a residency specializing in psychiatric care. Psychiatric care can involve the prescription of medication, as well as psychotherapy treatment, otherwise known as talk therapy (via American Psychiatric Association). Therefore, psychiatrists are able to make a diagnosis of mental health disorders by factoring in both physical and environmental factors, such as a pre-existing health condition, or stress related to family or job. While psychiatrists can offer mental health talk therapy just as therapists do, it's psychiatrists who prescribe medication.

Therapists generally need a master's degree at minimum (via Remedy Therapy). Their focus is providing mental health care through talk therapy. Some therapists may have specialties, such as group or couples counseling, while others may offer advocacy services. Psychotherapy can be beneficial for those seeking support to process their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

However, you don't necessarily need to decide between the two. Many people opt to seek mental health care from both a psychiatrist and a therapist. As described by Remedy Therapy, a therapist can help identify a problem or trigger, and a psychiatrist can help patients manage symptoms through medication. Generally, people will see a therapist on a more consistent basis, while a psychiatrist may be visited more sparingly.