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Carissa Van Schooten

Psychiatrist or Psychologist? What’s the Difference?

All Things Therapy November 19, 2016 By No Response

Previously, we looked at counselors and therapists, where the two labels overlap and how they are different. In this post, I wanted to look at two other confusing labels in the world of psychology – the psychologist, and the psychiatrist. Instead of looking at different professions this time, an easy way to differentiate between these two lies within their names:

Psychiatrist: “…-iatry”

A psychiatrist practices psychiatry. That’s not too terribly surprising. What is interesting to note is that the suffix of “–iatry” indicates that this word refers to a branch of the medical field. Paediatry (paediatrician) is the field that specializes in the physical health of children, and podiatry specializes in the health of the foot. Psychiatrists focus on the physical health of the brain. This makes the psychiatrist a medical physician whose primary goal is to treat the physical and genetic makeup of the brain. They are licensed to prescribe medication, and while they can also offer psychotherapy sessions (more often known as counseling sessions) they are generally more focused on medication management.

Psychologist: “…-ology”

Along the same lines, the clues to understanding the roles of psychologists are in the field they study: psychology. When “-ology” is added to a word, it indicates a field of study. Cosmology is the study of the universe, epistemology is the study of knowledge, and sociology is the study of cultures and societies. Psychology is the study of the psyche, and a psychologist is someone who tries to understand the mind. Psychologists aren’t physicians and they generally work in clinical or research centers. Their goal is to investigate and bring clarity, exploring various possible causes and treating thought patterns. They are generally not licensed to prescribe medication. When medication is required, they work together with psychiatrists to figure out a beneficial solution. The work of a clinical psychologist usually consists of psychotherapy or talk therapy.

The Complimentary Roles of Psychiatry and Psychology

As with the counselor or therapist, there is some overlap between these two fields. Both fields seek to improve mental health, increase mental functioning, and provide emotional stability for their clients. The different approach each discipline takes to help their clients set them apart from each other, but when practiced in the best interest of their client, both can be beneficial and have a positive impact on the lives they touch.


Carissa Van Schooten

Carissa Van Schooten

Carissa is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has experience working with cross-cultural issues, trauma, and loss, as well as identity, emotional regulation, and relational issues. She values the opportunity to come alongside individuals and families and help them discover their strengths in their process of healing and growth.


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