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Should I See A Therapist (Psychologist) or Psychiatrist?

Let’s first consider the differences and training between a licensed therapist, or counselor, and a psychiatrist:

  • Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, which means they go to medical school for four years and then spend at least five years in residency training learning about the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.

  • Trained therapists and counselors focus on the study of thought, behavior, emotion, and other factors that help us glean insight into ourselves, our actions, and each other. Licensed therapists are often doctors, but not medical doctors. Instead, they may be a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology).

For those struggling with their mental health, seeking help is an important step toward living a full and meaningful life. But knowing what kind of practitioner will provide the most effective treatment is not always clear. The good news is that experienced mental health professionals have the training and knowledge necessary for helping clients make informed decisions about the direction of their treatment. Psychiatrists and therapists

often refer patients to each other. But in general, here are some things to consider to get you started in making the decision about whether to see a psychologist or psychiatrist first.

Consider the following first:

  • If you want to spend time talking about an issue and working through it in a one-on-one session, a psychologist might be a good fit.

  • If you’re interested in pursuing psychiatric medication for symptom relief for a mental health disorder, you may want to start by talking with a psychiatrist.

  • If the issue you’re hoping to address is relationship-focused, say a problem at work or with a family member, you may find what you need from a psychologist.

  • If you are experiencing debilitating mental health symptoms that are interfering with your daily life, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.

As mentioned previously, psychiatrists and psychologists are both concerned with helping people optimize their mental wellness. You don’t have to know exactly what you need before you reach out for help. The best place to start is with a practitioner you feel comfortable speaking to. They’ll listen to your reasons for seeking help, assess your symptoms, evaluate your medical, psychiatric, and family history, and help you decide on a course of action moving forward. And remember, many people visit more than one mental health practitioner before they find the best fit.


Stephanie Burchell PhD LMFT PCC is a licensed therapist and certified coach. With over 15+ years of experience, Stephanie offers expert guidance and support to couples, individuals, and families. Both video and in-office appointments are available. For further information or to schedule an appointment please click below.

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