Psychiatrist / Psychologist: What’s the Difference?


Both professions provide medically necessary services in order to reduce cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms and improve the quality of life for their patients. Both are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and substance use disorders. Professionals in both fields must complete education, residency, and licensing exams before they can be licensed to practice independently. Both professions are licensed by the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.


The short answer is, psychiatrists are medical doctors and psychologists are not. The suffix “-iatry” means “medical treatment,” and “-logy” means “science” or “theory.” So psychiatry is the medical treatment of the psyche, and psychology is the science of the psyche.


Psychiatrists begin their careers in medical school. After earning their MD, they go on to four years of residency training in mental health, and possibly several more years in fellowship programs. Psychologists’ education requires a doctoral degree in psychology and a one year residency.

Scope of Service

While both professionals provide psychotherapy, only psychiatrists can prescribe medications. Patients typically see a psychiatrist monthly with a primary focus on determining medication efficacy in symptom reduction, and a secondary focus on patient education, support, and skill development. Whereas patients typically meet with a psychologist on a more frequent schedule, for example 1-4 sessions monthly, with a primary focus on providing education, support, and direct instruction of cognitive and behavioral skills to improve symptoms. Studies have suggested that the combination of medication and psychotherapy may lead to the most effective treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders.