Therapist, Psychologist, and Psychiatrist—What's the difference?

When you decide to get support for your mental health, the first thing you do is look for mental health providers in your area. And it's not long before you realize that you have a few different options—there are therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Here's where some people may get confused. Each one of these is different, and which one is right for you depends on your unique situation.


Therapists are mental health professionals who provide dedicated counseling in a variety of different ways. They usually specialize in treating specific mental health conditions, such as PTSD, ADHD, family counseling, marriage counseling, gender identity counseling, anxiety, and more. Some therapists specialize in a few different areas.

Each therapist has at least a bachelor's degree (and in most cases, a master's degree) level education and holds a license to practice psychotherapy in each state that they wish to work. Therapists provide unbiased and nonjudgemental support for things that are bothering you or areas of your life that don't seem to be going well. Therapists help you set goals and the action plans and resources needed to achieve those goals. They can also help you identify reasons why you may be experiencing certain mental health problems like anxiety or depression.


Psychologists are mental health providers and researchers who study human behavior and mental illnesses. They still provide therapy, but are also focused on the research of mental health illnesses and behavioral problems. Psychologists can diagnose mental illnesses and work diligently to create treatment plans for managing behaviors and symptoms. Psychologists have a doctorate-level education, as well as licensure in every state where they wish to provide service.

Psychologists are the only mental health professionals who can take advantage of PSYPACT to provide therapy across state lines. To join PSYPACT, they must complete a rigorous application process to verify their credentials and experience and ensure that they are in good standing in their profession.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in various mental health areas. They can prescribe medication and other forms of treatment for both mental and physical health conditions. Psychiatrists also lead research on the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental illnesses. Psychiatrists receive doctorate-level education and complete a residency. They also hold licenses as both a medical doctor and a psychotherapist.

Psychiatrists can provide counseling, but due to the shortage of psychiatrists they often focus on medication management and refer patients to a therapist or psychologist for counseling.

A shared purpose

There are two things that therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists all have in common. One is that they are all required to have continuing education in their specialized fields of practice and remain in good standing with their licensing boards. This ensures that they are up-to-date on all clinical information and best practices of their field and specialty. The other commonality is that they all share the same goal—to help people manage and improve their mental health.

How to choose the right mental health provider

There are many reasons why you should go to therapy, but choosing the right mental health provider can be overwhelming. Here are a few things to keep in mind when making your decision:

Working with a therapist is a great place to start when you aren't sure where to start. There are also more therapists than there are psychologists or psychiatrists, so it’s easier to find one to work with. Therapists have a massive knowledge base and the resources to help you get the right help if they can't provide it themselves. Therapists often use talk therapy to work with people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, relationship problems, addiction recovery, eating disorders, and more.

Seeing a psychologist is a great idea if you are struggling with chronic or complex mental health issues. Psychologists can also help with diagnosing and creating treatment plans for things like bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and more. Psychologists will use additional techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy to help their patients.

Psychiatrists are a great choice when you are experiencing physical problems as a result of your state of mental health, or vice versa. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication as another layer of treatment, in addition to all the non-invasive treatment options. They can also recommend and oversee in-patient treatments at a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or long-term care facility.

Getting started

Taking the first step to getting therapy is the hardest step. It is important to remember that there are many benefits of getting therapy, even if you don't think you need it. No matter which type of mental health provider you choose, you can expect to get professional and concise help for your struggles.

If you or someone you know is ready to get support, Medens Health is accepting new patients in California and Nevada. Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or to register as a new patient get started here.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.