What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and Psychiatrist? Who Should You See?

Many people are unsure of who they should see when they’re going through a rough patch. Do you go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist? Is a therapist the same as a life coach? These are common questions, and we’re here to answer them. So, what’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Difference Between a Psychologist and Psychiatrist

The difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist

Psychiatry is a branch of the medical community that appeared in the 19th century. It came about as an attempt to treat mental health problems by assuming that many of these issues have the same characteristics as some physical problems.

Psychology on the other hand has always been closely related to philosophy and came about in the second part of the 20th century, when it was becoming common to treat mental problems and disorders.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century when Sigmund Freud started to shy away from medicine and looked toward a therapeutic approach more similar to what we know today as psychotherapy. In that time, psychological studies were focused on research, rather than treating patients directly. This is why the first discoveries about mental problems and disorders came from psychiatry, instead of psychology.

Today, although there is a difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist, there is quite a bit of “rivalry” between the two. This may have something to do with the fact that until recently, psychology wasn’t a regulated health profession, and although it is now, there are still some legal issues related to psychology that have yet to be determined.

Difference Between a Psychologist and Psychiatrist

The difference between psychologist and psychiatrist

The difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who later specialized in psychiatry. Only psychiatrists can give prescriptions, and they have a deep understanding of the brain’s biological structure and function.

Psychiatric intervention is focused on physiology and brain chemistry. They are responsible for treating people with emotion disorders or mental issues through the use of medication or prescription drugs.

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Psychiatrists don’t technically have the necessary training to give psychological therapy. Their treatment isn’t based on teaching patients how to strategies and techniques to overcome their emotional or behavioral issues, but is instead designed to treat the physiological issues they face.

Some psychiatrists, however, do go through additional training to be able to offer this type of help.


Psychologists are trained professionals in the area of psychology. They are specialized in treating the patient’s emotional and behavioral problems by teaching them coping strategies and techniques, like alternative mental health therapy. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication.

Differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are able and responsible for prescribing medication, but not providing therapy, while a psychologist cannot prescribe medication, but helps the patient cope by teaching strategies and techniques.

Psychiatrists and psychologists generally work together, as the best treatment for the patient involves both types of therapy. It is common for psychiatric patients to undergo psychotherapy as well.

Therapist vs. Life Coach


This term can cause some confusion. A therapist, or psychotherapist, is someone who provides any kind of therapy, whatever the type, outcome, or validity it is or has. Because of this relatively “loose” classification, it’s important to do your research and find out who you’re choosing to see. It is possible, and even likely, that someone who claims to be a therapist does not have the required skills to treat psychological problems in their patients.

Life Coach:

This is a person who helps you reach the goals and objectives that you give yourself, and don’t really provide any psychological treatment. Those who seek the help of a life coach shouldn’t have any psychological or mental health issue, or if they do, should seek the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist as well as a life coach. A psychologist has the knowledge and ability to serve as a life coach, but a life coach cannot serve as a psychologist. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about what path you need and/or want to take.

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Difference Between a Psychologist and Psychiatrist

The difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist

Now that you know what the difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist is…

Who should you see?

The decision to see a professional is completely personal, but you might not get the results you really want if you don’t know what you’re getting into.

CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan recommends that if you have some type of mental or psychological problems, that you do some research to find out what the best treatments might be. She suggests you first go to a psychologist, who will then likely be able to point you in the right direction.

If you don’t suffer from any apparent mental health issues and just want to improve some part of your life, you’re probably fit to go to a life coach or psychologist, as both will have the skill set to help you on your way.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan.

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