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Therapist vs. Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

Sailun Tires

When it comes to mental health, there are varying needs of individuals and different types of specialists available to help. You may have heard of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, each practitioner with his/her own expertise in mental health. But often these terms are used loosely without understanding the nuances of each profession. So, what’s the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist and therapist, and whom should you consult? Here’s a lowdown on the distinct credentials and skills of each practitioner:

1. Psychologist

Psychologists typically have an advanced degree in psychology such as a Phd or a Psy.D. They may have a doctorate in clinical, counselling or school psychology. To earn the advanced degree, psychologists undergo 6-7 years of formal education after their bachelor’s degree. Many psychologists work purely in academics whereas many others provide psychotherapy. The two can also overlap.

What differentiates psychologists from other mental health specialists is their specialized training in assessment and psychological testing. This is one of the key features that sets them apart from master-level clinicians and psychiatrists. Since they have dedicated a large part of their education to learning and administering different types of psychological tests to evaluate intellectual and personality traits, they have prowess in differentiating various psychiatric conditions. This is a valuable skill because many clinical disorders have significant overlaps and the right diagnosis is necessary for therapy and medication where required.

When you are looking for help, it is also recommended to check the psychologist’s credentials. For example, a quick search on “psychologist edmonton” will show some of the best psychologists in the city. Do a thorough check of the qualifications to be sure you are in good hands. 

2. Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with a relevant degree specializing in preventing, diagnosing and treating mental disorders. Psychiatrists undergo four years of medical school, followed by internship and a couple of years of specialized training/residency in psychiatry.

Psychiatrists are trained to differentiate mental health illnesses from underlying medical conditions that manifest as psychiatric problems. They can also track and monitor the impact of mental illness on other physical conditions such as heart problems or hypertension. In addition, they can also study the effect of medicines on the body such as body weight, blood pressure, organ functioning etc.

One of the notable differences between psychiatry and other practices is that psychiatrists are licensed to write prescriptions. Several mental health illnesses may require prescription drugs. Often, psychiatrists recommend a combination of medication and therapy to manage the disorder. In these cases, the psychiatrists may themselves offer counselling or recommend a counsellor or therapist as needed.

3. Licensed Therapist

A therapist is a broader umbrella term for mental health practitioners who are trained and licensed to provide a number of treatments for individuals. Therapists have an advanced degree in psychology and spend approximately two additional years in graduate school to earn their master’s. The advanced degrees help them specialize in a particular branch of psychotherapy such as marital counselling, social work, life coaching or school counselling.

Therapists are trained for assessment and intervention practices needed for psychological issues. But they may not have received specialized education in psychological evaluation and testing. Many therapists(master’s level) do not necessarily make mental disorder diagnoses and only provide therapy rather than direction intervention.

Whom should you consult?

It is important to get relevant help at the right time to take control of your mental and emotional wellbeing. Consider the kind of challenges you are facing. If the individual is suffering from a lot of stress and exhibits symptoms of anxiety and depression, it could be a case for a psychologist, who may redirect you to a therapist or a psychiatrist.

It is best to approach psychiatrists when a person is undergoing debilitating mental health symptoms that interfere with their daily life and functioning. 


Psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists are all qualified and concerned with improving people’s mental wellness. Often the best place to start is to speak with a practitioner who has good reviews and whom you find comfortable speaking to.


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