graphic of the difference between psychology and psychiatry

The Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry and Why You May Need Both

While mental health is just as important as physical health, the mental health system is not as transparent. Nevertheless, if you are dealing with mental health concerns, knowing where to seek treatment is the first important step. Often the terms “psychologist” and “psychiatrists” are thrown about, even used interchangeably by some individuals, but what do they really mean for mental health treatment? Understanding the differences between both can help you better understand the treatment process for mental health conditions and can ensure that you get the most optimal treatment.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are mental health professionals with a firm understanding of human behavior and the behavioral problems that can affect an individual’s overall well-being. In addition, both can perform psychotherapy, or talk therapy designed to help an individual confront and manage difficult issues that may be contributing to their mental illness or negatively affecting their well-being.  

What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?


Psychologists are experts in the study of the mind and its behaviors and specialize in the evaluation and treatment of mental and emotional conditions. Although they hold a doctoral degree in their field (PhD, PsyD, or EdD), they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications. Their training consists of graduate school and a two to three-year internship focused on treatment methods, psychological theory, and behavioral therapy.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses. Because they are medical doctors, they are required to graduate medical school, and complete both one year of internship and at least three years of residency. This specialized training allows them to understand the complex relationship between mental health problems and physical health conditions, as well as to differentiate psychiatric symptoms from conditions. Their training also allows them to prescribe and monitor medications for the management of mental health conditions.

Psychologist or Psychiatrist? Why You May Need Both

So what does all this mean in terms of treatment? Although psychologists and psychiatrists are both experts in mental health conditions, they both have different treatment approaches. Psychologists, for example, will focus more on identifying, exploring, and treating behavioral patterns, while psychiatrists will look more at possible physical causes for psychiatric symptoms, as well as the possibility of medicine-based intervention.

Because these mental health professionals offer different treatment approaches, it can be beneficial to see both. Combination therapy, or the use of more than one therapy to treat a given condition, unites the behavioral therapy focus of psychologists with the pharmacological therapy of psychiatrists to yield thorough, effective treatments for mental health conditions.

Often times, mental health conditions can have a variety of causes and can be exhibited in a variety of ways. Seeing both a psychologist and a psychiatrist leads to a higher possibly of having all these causes and symptoms identified and managed both physically and mentally. In short, combination therapy consisting of psychology and psychiatry results in a greater sense of overall well-being that no individual therapy can match.

In a an article published by Psychiatric Times, several studies found biological symptoms such as sleep disturbances, agitation, and loss of appetite were better managed through medications, while psychological symptoms such as anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and guilt were better managed through psychotherapy. With this data, the article concluded that combination therapy utilizing psychotherapy and medication yielded better overall results than either single therapy on its own.

There are certain mental health conditions that have been found to specifically benefit from combination therapy including Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and severe depression. Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have also been found to have good results with combination therapy in some studies.

However, it is important to note that with mental health conditions, there is not always an easy, correct answer. While combination therapy offers a team of mental health professionals working together for treatment, the effects of this treatment may not occur right away. Medications often take some time to be completely effective and the dosage may need to be adjusted before finding the right balance, and psychotherapy in itself is a process that can take months to be effective.

Even though it may take some time to be effective, combination therapy does offer you the ability to treat both the mental and physical symptoms of your mental health condition and is worth trying for a few months. As you continue the process, you can always adjust certain aspects as needed to ensure you are receiving the best treatment for your condition. If you are interested in learning more about combination therapy or would like to schedule a consultation to see what your treatment would entail, reach out to us here at Family Psychiatry & Therapy. 

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.