the difference between Psychologist and Psychiatrist Hissah EC Abu Dhabi

Oftentimes we find that the terms ‘psychologist’ and ‘psychiatrist’ are being used interchangeably. Many people have the misconception that both terms refer to the same thing, when in fact, there are some major differences between the two. Yes, both psychiatrists and psychologists belong to the field of mental health, both take part in counseling, and both work towards diagnosing and treating psychological disorders – however, there are some areas in which they differ in terms of their educational background, their approach, and their treatment plans.

What’s the difference and how do the professions overlap?

Educational Background

The professions of psychiatry and psychology differ greatly in terms of education. Psychiatrists attend medical school and are trained in general medicine. After earning an MD, they practice four years of residency training in psychiatry. Their psychiatry specialization involves training in different psychotherapy treatment modalities. Their experience typically involves working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital with a variety of patients, from children and adolescents with behavior disorders to adults with severe cases of mental illness. Additional training is also given in areas of specific interest such as psychopharmacology, child and adolescent psychiatry, or addictions.

Psychologists must obtain a PhD or PsyD doctoral degree, which can take up to four or six years. Throughout their education, psychologists study personality development, the history of psychological problems, different types of therapies, and the science of psychological research. Graduate school provides rigorous preparation for a career in psychology by teaching students how to diagnose mental and emotional disorders in varying situations. Psychologists are also usually required to complete 2-year long internship after which there is a period of supervised practice.

The Approach

Though psychologists and psychiatrists look at the same kinds of problems, they tend to approach them in different ways. Psychologists pay close attention to behavior. For example, if there is a case of depression which is so debilitating it is not allowing the client to get out of bed, the psychologist would then begin to track sleeping and eating patterns, negative thought processes etc. that may be contributing to or even causing the problem.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, look at things along the lines of biology and neurochemistry. In this case of depression, they would first examine their vitamin and thyroid levels to see if they are the cause of the depressive mood. Once a diagnosis is made, psychiatrists usually prescribe medications.

One of the biggest differences between psychologists and psychiatrists is the fact that, as psychiatrists are medical doctors, they are able to prescribe medications while psychologists are not.

The Overlap

Very often, psychologists and psychiatrists work in collaboration with one another to provide the best possible treatment for an individual.

For example, patients may begin by seeing their primary care physician about the psychological symptoms that they are experiencing. Their doctor may then refer them to a psychologist for further evaluation. That psychologist may observe, assess, and diagnose the patient before referring them to a psychiatrist who can prescribe and monitor medications. The psychologist and psychiatrist may work together, with the psychologist offering behavioral interventions and the psychiatrist providing or adjusting medication, in order to best address the patient’s symptoms.

If you are experiencing any form of psychological disturbance and you do not know who you should consult – the best thing to do would be to talk to your primary care physician who can then refer you to a specialist if need be. The most important thing is to never hesitate to reach out for help when you need it.


Cherry. K (2018). What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Retrieved from