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Resource: Therapist v. Psychiatrist

*This is one of a series of posts we are planning for our readers to use as a tool to help someone in their life better understand the tenets of mental health.

yellow door and blue door at top of stairs

Imagine the following scenario: you need to talk to a mental health professional.

Who do you contact first?

First you may think the big T for therapist. It’s probably followed by images of a relaxing chaise lounge, well-stocked bookshelves and a stately doctor across from you with their legs crossed and a notepad on their knee.

Then your thoughts turns to a psychiatrist which brings dark images of an Arkham Asylum-type place and the Joker laughing in the background.

You need to stop watching so many movies because they have taken some serious liberties.

pill bottle with pills

Admittedly our view of mental health professionals has been greatly skewed by films, and television because it is our only frame of reference. Therapy and medication are both 100% fine if they are what you need/want, but the true issue is deciding if you will see a Psychiatrist or Therapist.

According to Better Help (1), the difference between the two is multi-layered.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has gone through four years of medical school, and also completed one or two years of an internship before beginning their practice. Psychiatrists can diagnose mental illnesses/conditions, determine if the latter could have any additional effects on your health and prescribe medication to help balance you.

A therapist is an umbrella term used for a person who has at least a master’s degree but does not need a PhD or M.D. in order to practice. These individuals could include counselors, psychologists and psychotherapists. Therapists are not able to prescribe medication, but will often collaborate with a medical doctor or psychiatrist.

Let us take at look at some of the pros and cons of both.

metal balls hanging in a line


Pro: Relationship building

You’re going to get the chance to build a relationship with your therapist. You will not be a forgotten file; rather, you will be a person your therapist wishes to help no matter how much time has passed. 

Con: Finding the ‘one’

That being said, it is important to note you NEED to feel comfortable with the individual, degree or not, before you commit to them long-term. This can lead to a process, a trial-and-error if you will, of seeing many therapists before you feel like your mental health is in safe hands. You have no obligations to any one therapist, just the person who is right for you.

Pro & Con: Time

 A therapist is great if you have the time to dedicate an hour of session time each week (or two depending on how your therapist feels you are doing), and if you are looking for a long-haul solution.  On the other hand, you are a busy individual and being a functioning member of society is challenging. Gauge if that type of commitment will work for you before you set your heart on it.

Pro & Con: No meds

 Therapists alone cannot prescribe medication. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with medication but there are some who believe in more natural solutions to chemical imbalances; therefore, do not want someone to try pushing a pill into their hands. But if you are okay with taking medicine, chances are a therapist will be collaborating with a doctor or psychiatrist.



Pro: Diagnosing

 If you are looking for solid answers of what could be going on in your head, you have a better chance with a psychiatrist. Not only can they diagnose physical and mental illnesses, but they can also determine if those illnesses are affecting other areas of your health.

Con: Being another brick in the wall

Not to say you are not important as their patient but chances are you won’t be building up a relationship the way you would with a therapist. After the initial diagnosis and decision how to treat, you will be going for check-ins every so many months (likely three) to make sure the treatment(s) are working for you. If not, the psychiatrist will adjust and the two of you will meet again in another few months.

Pro & Con: Time

Like with therapist above, this all depends on what you are looking for. Do you have time for a weekly meeting or just an appointment here and there? The good thing about seeing a psychiatrist is in the event your treatment is very clearly not working well before your next appointment, you can call and see them much sooner and they will be happy to assess the situation.

In the end, the decision is up to you on who you see. You have to make the right choice for you; your schedule, your lifestyle, and your money.


Emily Ridener

A few words about me

There are quite a few mottos I like to sling around including but not limited to, “Life is short, eat the cupcake,” “What would Wednesday do?” and perhaps most importantly, “What’s so great about normal?” I don’t approve of people who put others down because society has taught us they are “less” and I choose to use my words to share truth, do no harm, and combat ignorance.