What is the Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry?

What is the Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry?

What is the Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry?

What is the Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry?

One question that we are consistently asked is What is the Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry?

To answer this question as fully as possible we have put together this fairly definitive article.

Some people use the term interchangeably, however, these two concepts refer to different fields of study and of practice. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two.

What is Psychology?

Psychology is defined as the study of human behaviour and everything associated with it. Psychologists study emotions, motivation, learning, cognitive processes, human development and many other things.

Psychologists work in a variety of fields. Some of them go on to become psychotherapists or counsellors and work with patients directly, however, this is not true of all of them. Many go on to work in marketing or human resources. Others do research on different subject. Some offer courses and workshops, while many teach in school or in college. In general, there are many things that psychologists do and not all of them work with patients.

Psychology works with mental disorders and people who have these problems, however, it is usually focused on different aspects of these problems than psychiatry.

Psychologists usually get a Bachelor’s Degree and often continue to study to get a Master’s and a PhD in order to become licensed. In order to be qualified to work with patients, studies beyond the Bachelor’s Degree are required. In some countries, psychologists need to be licensed to practice, such as in the U.S.

Most psychologists can’t prescribe medicine. However in the U.S, recently this has been allowed in some states, although not in most of them. Most psychologists don’t prescribe medicine and usually require that the patient go to a psychiatrist or a neurologist if they think that medical attention and medication is required in their case.

Psychologists also do psychological tests. These tests can be used for a variety of goals, such as determining a person’s IQ, their personality, depression, anxiety and many other things.

What is Psychiatry?

Psychiatry is a medical science. It is focused mostly on people who have mental disorders that can be diagnosed and treated. Many psychiatrists focus on providing medication as the central part of the treatment, however, there are some who give psychotherapy or channel the patient to a therapist to receive therapy in addition to medication.

Psychiatrists study in medical school and after that do a specialization in psychiatry. They are doctors and can prescribe medicine. Some receive training in psychotherapy as well.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is probably also worth a mention at this point, it’s important to differentiate it as well. Psychotherapy refers to the specific intervention done with individuals, families and groups in order to help people improve their quality of life, reduce the symptoms of mental disorders and to grow as individuals.

There are different theoretical approaches to psychotherapy. There are psychoanalytic therapies, cognitive therapies, behavioral therapies, family therapies and many others. They have different ideas about the psychological basis of different problems and thus address them differently. Psychotherapy is an effective method for working with people who have mental disorders and who have certain problems in life. Often, psychotherapy is used together with medication to get the best possible results.

In order to practice psychotherapy, professionals need to receive training and academic study. There are Master’s degrees in psychotherapy, for example.

Many therapists are psychologists, but some psychiatrists also might choose to study it and offer therapy to their patient and not just medication. Social workers and doctors might also study psychotherapy and offer this service.


Psychology and psychiatry are fields that have many similarities and, despite their differences, are complementary fields.

They both focus on the study of mental disorders and abnormal behavior, including the causes, symptoms and possible treatment for these problems. There is research from both a psychological and a psychiatric perspective.

Psychologists and psychiatrists often work together. A psychologist might send a client to a psychiatrist to see if they need medication, while a psychiatrist might suggest psychotherapy or psychological help for a patient who comes to see them.

Historical context

In a historical context, psychiatry is older than psychology. It gained its name in the 1800s and was concerned, at first, mostly with the treatment of patients who were in asylums. However, attempts at understanding and treating individuals with severe mental disorders happened before that time.

Many of the first psychologists were psychiatrists or medical practitioners. For instance, Freud was a doctor. His theories became a very important foundation in psychology and they also influenced psychiatry for a long time.

However, psychology and psychiatry became more distinct. Psychology was interested not only in the study and treatment of mental disorders, but also in the study of normal development, self-improvement and so on. More theories were developed in the field of psychology.

In psychiatry, there were some important developments too. There were new and more efficient medications developed – antidepressants, anti-psychotics and others. Seeing the effects of medication, psychiatry focused more on this aspect of treatment. Psychiatry was more interested in the diagnosis and medical treatment of mental disorders, while psychology tended to have a wider scope of study topics.

While biological and medical approaches to mental disorders continue to be important today and there is no denying that medication can be very useful, there is also an increased focus on the effectiveness of psychotherapy and the importance of psychological variables in mental disorders. There is a tendency to reconcile the different approaches and to work together to achieve the best results and the best possible treatment for patients.


The main difference between psychology and psychiatry lies in the training of the practitioners that affects their view of mental disorders and the main treatment they provide, if they work with patients. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine and psychiatrists are doctors who often prescribe medication. Most psychologists who work with patients tend to receive additional training as therapists or counsellors and more often than not, don’t prescribe medicine.

Psychiatry and psychology are complementary sciences that can work together in benefit of the individual.

Obviously the differences between psychologists and psychiatrists are somewhat subjective and fluid, differences between the two fields also exist from country to country, feel free to comment and add your view on the differences between psychology and psychiatry!