Who Do You Call – Psychologists or Psychiatrists?

People have asked me the question plenty of times:

Hey Chen! What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? And who do I go to for my problems?

These are reasonable questions. Media often labels these two as ‘shrinks’, rooting from the term ‘head-shrinkers’. This came from a time where tribes ‘shrunk’ heads along with their problems.

More importantly, both professions…

  • assess and diagnose people with mental disorders
  • aim to improve your mental health
  • contains the word ‘psych’  at the beginning, which refers to ‘mind’

However, psychiatrists and psychologists differ quite a lot in terms of education, qualifications and approach. Let me explain briefly.

A quick note: Psychology is a very broad discipline. Consequently, it contains specializations that do not involve counseling or psychotherapy. When I compare psychologists from psychiatrists in this article, I am referring to clinical/counseling psychologists. These two specializations qualify to deal with mental health matters.

Counseling is sometimes called ‘talk therapy’. It’s a safe and judgment free environment.


  1. have at least a Masteral Degree in a Psychology course. In the United States, some places need psychologists to attain a PhD (Philosophy Doctorate) or a PsyD (Psychology Doctorate). Yet, in the Philippines (where I’m based), you need a Masteral Degree in Psychology before applying in a licensure exam.
  2. are qualified to use psychological tests. Psychologists are social scientists. Thus, their training allows them to effectively use psychological exams. Examples of these exams are IQ and depression tests.
  3. are trained in comprehensive assessment. Psychologists use a biopsychosocial approach to pinpoint the source of your difficulties. This means they analyze based on multiple sources. Particularly, these sources include:
    • biological factors (e.g. genes, chemicals)
    • psychological factors (e.g. personality, thoughts)
    • social factors (e.g. family, culture)
  4. are trained in psychotherapy/counseling. Psychologists are trained with the counseling skills to help with your difficulties. This involves active listening, therapeutic attitudes, and more depending on the counseling approach.
  5. cannot prescribe medicine. No doubt, some psychologists discourage the frequent use of medicine to treat problems. This is because drug dependence and tolerance can occur.

Psychiatrists on the other hand…

  • have a medical background. Psychiatrists are Doctors in Medicine (MDs). Typically, they have to finish a science course, finish medicine, and complete residency in psychiatry.
  • can track physical symptoms. Due to their training in medicine, they can also track physical symptoms caused by psychiatric ones. For instance, they can check how your Eating Disorder has affected your heart’s functioning.
  • treat people with mental disorders. Psychiatrists mostly deal with mental disorders, since they are qualified to cure these ‘chemical imbalances’.
  • prescribe medicine. To ease mental illness of patients, they prescribe medicine. Oftentimes, this is necessary for patients who’ve lost control due to depression and such.

    These are anti-depressant pills. Careful though, too much can have side effects.
  • not trained in counseling. Training in psychiatry does not include skills in counseling. As a result, psychiatrists need extra certification before they can do counseling.


These are the major differences I’ve reviewed between these two professions. But the question still rises: Who do we go to when we are experiencing difficulties?

You may consult either psychiatrists or psychologists for a relevant diagnosis. If they do diagnose you, you may opt to take medication from the psychiatrist. However, consider medication as a temporary solution. Medication may ease symptoms, but may not effect lasting change.

What we really need are psychologists and psychiatrists working together. Also, I always recommend  going through counseling when you are experiencing life difficulties. Finding the right mental health professional, or looking for a friend to refer one, helps a lot.

I hope you found this article helpful! Please feel free to comment below if you have anything to share.



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