Psychologists and psychiatrists

Psychologists and psychiatrists: what’s the difference?

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

While psychologists and psychiatrists both specialise in caring for people with mental health concerns, there are some major differences between the two fields. The most significant difference is that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has specialised in psychiatry, and a psychologist is not a doctor.

To become a psychiatrist in Australia, a person needs to first complete a medical degree. They must then complete on-the-job training at a hospital, before completing specialist training in psychiatry through RANZCP, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, which takes 5 years.

To become a psychologist in Australia, a person needs to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology, including fourth-year accredited psychology studies. They can then complete an internship or complete postgraduate study to get their registration. 

What a psychiatrist does

A psychiatrist looks after patients with mental health conditions and advocates for better mental health care in the community through a combination of duties, which may include:

  • Assessment, diagnosis and/or medication prescription
  • ‘Talk therapy’ or talking and listening with patients and important people in their lives
  • Providing mental health care for patients admitted to hospital
  • Continued research and teaching, for example at universities
  • Providing expert opinion on mental health issues

One key difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that, because a psychiatrist is a doctor, they are able to directly prescribe medications their patients might need to treat their mental illness.

What a psychologist does

A psychologist’s role is to help people with mental health concerns live the fullest and most confident life possible. This includes working directly with patients as well as the community.

Some of a psychologist’s duties include:

  • Assessment and therapy
  • Research and teaching, for example at universities
  • Psychological testing
  • Working with organisations or schools to improve their systems

Choose who’s right for you

When preparing you for a referral, your GP will help you understand the differences in the ways a mental health professional might be able to help you best. Irrespective of areas of specialisation, always choose someone you feel comfortable with and can trust. 

Reach out for support

As the largest private provider of mental health care in Australia, we are dedicated to making a real difference in the lives of those we treat, with whatever pathway they need.

We offer a range of services designed to support people experiencing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and a range of other conditions.

We encourage you to reach out to our expert team who can assist you in finding the right avenue you need to get your mental health back on track.