Difference between Therapist and Psychiatrist

Key Difference: A therapist, or officially a psychotherapist is anyone who offers psychotherapy as part of their services. A psychiatrist is a doctor with a medical degree specializing in psychiatry.

Accepting the fact that you need is hard enough, getting that help shouldn’t be. However, that is often not the case. There are numerous factors that affect the availability of help, such as cost, where you live, access to medical centers, whether or not insurance covers it, whether or not your parents will allow it, the stigma associated with it, and so many others.

If you do manage to get through all these issues, there is yet another one that you face: Who should you go to for help? Should you go to a Therapist, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Counselor, or someone else entirely?

Therapist – a person who offers psychotherapy services aka talk therapy

Psychiatrist – a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry. Has an MD (medical degree)

Psychologist – a person who has a PhD in psychology

Counselor – psychotherapists with Master’s degree who provide psychotherapy services aka talk therapy

Now let’s look at a more detailed comparison between a therapist and a psychiatrist.

A therapist is an umbrella term, which means it covers various different fields. Firstly, there are many different types of therapists, physical therapist, aromatherapist, etc. When talking about a therapist in the context of psychology, the official term would be a psychotherapist, and this term refers to anyone and everyone who is licensed to provide psychotherapy. Ideally, the term psychotherapist can refer to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or even a social worker; basically, anyone and everyone who offers psychotherapy as part of their services. To be considered a psychotherapist, the person needs to have a professional degree certifying them to provide psychotherapy.

A psychotherapist can conduct psychotherapy with individuals, groups, couples and/or families. However, to do so, they need to be certified for each one. There are many different types of psychotherapy that a therapist can specialize in and provide, including but not limited to the following:

  • cognitive behavioral therapies (the most common)
  • psychoanalytic therapies
  • psychodynamic therapies
  • systemic and family psychotherapy
  • arts and play therapies
  • humanistic and integrative psychotherapies
  • hypno-psychotherapy
  • experiential constructivist therapies

In comparison, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor that needs to have a degree of medicine to practice. Any physician who has specialized their medical degree in psychiatry can term themselves as a psychiatrist.

While a therapist is someone who provides psychotherapy, a psychiatrist has a much larger scope. They can conduct medical tests and diagnose conditions, something a therapist legally cannot. In addition to diagnosing, a psychiatrist also helps in management and prevention of mental disorders and conditions.

Another major difference between these different types of professionals is the fact that not all of them can prescribe medication. In most countries, only the psychiatrist can prescribe medication as they ideally need a medical degree to practice. Only a medical doctor is allowed to prescribe medicine. However, in some countries and regions a psychologist may be allowed to prescribe certain types of medication, or medication for certain conditions. In other cases, they are required to refer to a psychiatrist for added medical assistance. A therapist and counselor are usually not allowed to prescribe medication at all in most regions.

Comparison between Therapist and Psychiatrist:





A person who offers psychotherapy services aka talk therapy. Can refer to psychiatrist, psychologist, or even a social worker

A medical doctor specializing in psychiatry

Degree and Qualification

Has a degree certifying them to  psychotherapy

Has a Medical Degree specializing in psychiatry


Usually cannot prescribe medication

Can prescribe medication


Cannot diagnose conditions. Are only there to provide help and guidance.

Can diagnose medical/psychological conditions

Services provided

Different types of psychotherapy

Diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders and conditions

Reference: Wikipedia (Therapist and Psychiatrist), Chron, Psychology Today, NHS, RC Psych
Image Courtesy: opencollege.info, lightapp.cloudapp.net

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