Are Psychologists Doctors? A Guide to Psychologists vs Psychiatrists

Posted on February 13, 2021

During any given year, one in five people in Canada will experience a problem with an addiction or a mental illness.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with a mental health condition, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to get help.

Often times, people will use the term "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" interchangeably. Actually, though, there are important differences between these two professions.

Are psychologists doctors? Let's take a look at the answer to this question and more.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

The branch of medicine known as psychiatry focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing behavioral, mental, and emotional health disorders.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. This means that they have either an M.D. or a D.O. they specialize in mental health disorders which includes drug and substance abuse. Due to their training, psychiatrists are able to assess psychological problems from both mental and physical aspects.

Psychiatrists are able to perform or order a full range of psychological and medical laboratory tests. They're also able to prescribe medication, provide psychological treatment,  and perform procedures like electroconvulsive therapy.

There are a lot of different roles that a psychiatrist can perform as a part of the profession. For example, they can:

  • Work with an individual to help them manage a long-term mental health condition
  • Provide urgent care for an individual with a sudden mental illness
  • Give advice to individuals regarding lifestyle changes to promote mental health
  • Provide advice to other healthcare professionals and doctors as well as second opinions
  • Work with an individual, a couple, a family, or any other related group
  • Make the decision to admit an individual to a hospital, if necessary
  • Refer an individual to other health professionals

Are you wondering what exactly a psychiatrist can help a person with? There's a long list of issues that a psychiatrist can be helpful for. To name a few...

  • If a mental health condition involves suicidal plans or ideas
  • If a mental health condition is difficult to diagnose 
  • If a mental health condition comes on suddenly or is severe
  • If the individual requires medication that can only be prescribed by a psychiatrist
  • if your condition is not responding well to standard treatment through your family doctor

There are a lot of different reasons that an individual might go to see a psychiatrist. Some common reasons include:

  • Anxiety, fear, or worry
  • Difficulty adjusting to major life changes
  • Suicidal thinking and self harm
  • Low mood or depression that won't go away
  • Thoughts of harming others
  • Being unable to sleep, relax, or wind down; having too much energy
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Experiencing feelings of jumpiness or being on edge
  • Having constant and frequent negative thoughts
  • Hallucinating
  • Feeling like people want to harm you
  • Having disjointed or rushing thoughts
  • Having delusions
  • Issues with drug or alcohol use
  • Eating disorders or issues around body image and dieting
  • Issues with gambling, gaming, or other addictive behaviors
  • Inability to concentrate and hyperactivity
  • Memory issues
  • Emotional outbursts, agitation, or violence
  • Childhood anxiety, autism, or an intellectual disability
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia

It psychiatrist is able to recommend and provide a wide range of different treatments which include medication, psychological treatment, and brain stimulation therapy. They're also able to give practical advice regarding sleep, diet, and other lifestyle considerations. 

What Is a Psychologist? Are Psychologists Doctors?

A psychologist also focuses on the realm of mental health and life issues. They have the clinical skills and professional training to help people deal more effectively with their mental health and life issues.

Psychologists are not medical doctors, however, they do attend years of graduate school and undergo much supervised training. They are able to provide a number of different services including psychotherapy and evaluations. They can utilize a wide variety of techniques in order to assist while taking into account their unique goals, values, characteristics, and circumstances.

Some psychologists have doctoral degrees, such as a PhD, PsyD, or EdD.  They have spent, on average, an additional seven years of training and education after they have completed their bachelor's degrees.

A person may seek a psychologist for a variety of different reasons.  Anxiety, anger, or depression, to name a few.   Similarly, if someone has been suffering from a chronic condition that is interfering with their physical health or daily lives, they might also be interested in finding a psychologist.

Psychologists are great for short terms problems. Sometimes things come up in life making it difficult to navigate on your own. Talking with a psychologist can help individuals work through these difficult times.

Psychologists can help people learn to overcome addiction, cope with stressful situations, and manage their chronic illnesses. They are also able to assess and test individuals in order to gain some insight on why we think, act and behave the way do. These types of test may evaluate personality characteristics, intellectual skills, cognitive abilities, vocational aptitude and preference, and neuropsychological functioning.

Psychiatrist Vs Psychologist: How Are They Similar?

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained and skilled at helping a person talk through their issues and problems. They are both interested in helping to provide you with the means to manage a variety of issues that you're dealing with in your daily life.

Psychiatrist Vs Psychologist: What's the Difference?

While there are certainly some similarities between psychiatrists and psychologists, they are not the same thing. Understanding the difference between two mental health professions can help ensure that you are seeking the right type of help for your issue.


One of the main differences between psychiatrists and psychologists is the type of education and training they receive.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. They have gone through at least 11 years. They must receive a medical degree at University before spending a year to two training as a general doctor.

After this, a psychiatrist will complete five years of training in the treatment and diagnosis of mental health conditions.

A psychologist, on the other hand, is not a medical doctor. They will have at least six years of training in a university as well as supervised experience. Sometimes, psychologists will hold a Masters or a Doctorate in psychology. If a psychologist has a PhD, they might be referred to as a doctor, however, they are not medical doctors.

People who work as clinical psychologists have undergone specialized training in both the diagnosis and the treatment of mental illnesses.

Treatments Provided

Another difference between psychologists and psychiatrists is the type of treatments that they provide.

Since psychiatrists are medical doctors, they are able to provide a wider range of treatments than psychologists. These include general medical care, medication, psychological treatments, and brain stimulation therapy.

Psychologists are not able to prescribe medication and instead focus on providing psychological treatments.

Getting an Appointment

Since psychiatrists are medical specialists, you have to get a referral from your family doctor in order to book an appointment.

In order to see a psychologist, though, a referral is not necessary and most people will do their own research online before contacting one.  

Types of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy involves talking to a therapist. This might be a one-on-one session or you might be talking with the therapist as a part of a group or with your spouse. Psychotherapy can help you to look into your worries and problems.

While psychotherapy usually involves talking, there are also some other methods that can be used. These include movement, art, drama, and music.

People typically meet their therapist regularly. This might mean meeting once a week for several months or even for several years. Group sessions tend to be longer than individual sessions, which are typically about 50 minutes.

There are a number of different types of psychotherapy that mental health professionals will use.

One type of psychotherapy is known as CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. This method examines how your thoughts and beliefs are connected with your feelings and behaviors. It aims to help teach individual skills that will train your style of thinking and behavior in order to help you manage and handle stressful situations.

Another type of therapy is called psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapy. In this type of therapy, you will be encouraged to speak whatever thoughts are passing through your mind. This method aims to help you understand any hidden patterns or meaning in your actions or words and how they might be adding to your issues.

Cognitive analytical therapy is a form of therapy that combines cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy. It attempts to help people learn how to improve their behavior through experimentation and self-help

Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on an individual's relationships with other people and how an illness can be triggered by these relationships. This type of therapy can help develop coping strategies and learn how to deal with the feelings involved with interpersonal relationships.

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This is a therapy that was originally developed for people with borderline personality disorder, however, is now used to help treat a variety of mental health issues. Its goal is to arm people with the skills to handle stress, regulate their emotions and improve their relationships.

Should You See a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist?

Whether you should see a psychiatrist or psychologist will depend on your particular situation. If it is unclear which you should meet with, you should consult with your family doctor. They'll be able to let you know which of these mental health professionals will be best suited to help you and your current needs.

In Conclusion

We at Insurdinary understand how important mental health is, especially during such an uncertain time.  Taking an interest in your mental health will definitely have a positive impact on not only yourself, but your co-workers and of course your family. 

Does your current insurance plan cover psychologists and other non-medical therapists?  Maybe it's time to re-evaluate your plan. Compare quotes and when you're ready, one of our agents will be happy to assist you in tailoring a plan for your specific needs.

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