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What Is the Difference between a Therapist and Psychiatrist?

By Brandon May
Updated May 17, 2024
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The difference between a therapist and psychiatrist lies mainly within the practices themselves and the education requirements to obtain licensure. A therapist generally needs two to four years of postgraduate study to obtain a doctorate in psychology and often takes a one-year internship before working as an independent psychologist. Most psychiatrists generally require four or more years of postgraduate medical training to receive a medical doctorate so as to obtain the ability to prescribe medications for those suffering from mental illness. More often than not, a typical therapist offers counseling for those with less severe cases of mental ailments than those seeking help from a licensed psychiatrist.

A therapist and psychiatrist both offer therapeutic benefits to patients seeking help for mental stress or illness, whether it is dealing from past trauma or finding ways to cope with stress. The biggest difference between a therapist and psychiatrist lies within the general education requirements for each profession. When an individual seeks a career as a practicing psychologist or therapist, he or she is required to obtain a doctorate of psychology. This often takes around two to four years of postgraduate work, as well as a one- to two-year internship afterward.

Psychiatrists must attend medical school to obtain an MD, or medical doctor, degree, as psychiatrists prescribe medications to patients suffering from mental illness. Around four to eight years of postgraduate work are required to become a practicing psychiatrist, with up to four years of residency. Often, a therapist and psychiatrist will be required to take continuing education every four to five years to keep their certification or licensure. This often depends upon the state or region of practice as well as the specific type of degree obtained through the psychology or psychiatric university program.

Another specific difference between a therapist and psychiatrist is seen in the actual practice of each profession, each one using different methods to help a patient or client. Most counseling therapists or psychologists use talk therapy and other noninvasive techniques to help ease stress and aid in providing understanding of a client's emotional and mental life. Psychiatrists may also provide these therapies, yet can also prescribe antidepressants and other medications to patients seeking help with mental illness and disorders. Most psychiatrists tend to see clients who are suffering from more severe cases of mental illness, compared to therapists who often have clients with low to moderate psychological ailments.

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