Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

The job of a psychiatrist and a psychologist may sound the same but they’re actually worlds apart. Here are the main differences between the two fields!

Updated 27 Dec 2017

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference? - Feature-Image

Psychologist. Psychiatrist. Aren’t they the same thing?

We don’t blame you. Both terms have often been misinterpreted and used interchangeably to describe two different areas. Although both are professions in the mental health field, they don’t necessarily serve the same functions despite working in similar settings.

In this article, we highlight the key differences between these two professions to help you determine which is the perfect match for you.

#1. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine while psychology is the study of human behaviour

Differences between a psychiatrist and psychologist - 1 Psychiatry is a branch of medicine while psychology is the study of human behaviour

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, management and prevention of mental, emotional or behavioural disorders”. Psychiatrists are doctors who look at the biology and neurochemistry of human beings to determine how they influence our behaviour and emotions.

On the other hand, psychology is a multifaceted discipline that studies how human beings think, behave and interact with one another. Depending on your level of study, you may be exposed to scientific research and conduct experiments, case studies, observations and brain imaging to investigate why we behave the way we do.

Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU)

Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology

Dual-award degree – one from De Montfort University, UK, and one from APU

#2. Psychiatrists have a Medical Degree while psychologists have a postgraduate Psychology Degree

Differences between a psychiatrist and psychologist - 2 Psychiatrists have a Medical Degree while psychologists have a postgraduate Psychology Degree

Since psychiatrists are qualified doctors, a career in psychiatry begins with a Medical Degree, which typically takes 5 years to complete. Once you are a registered doctor, you will then need to study for a Masters in Psychiatry.

To qualify as a psychologist, you will first need to complete a Degree in Psychology, which takes 3 years to complete, before taking your masters or PhD in a specialised field, such as clinical psychology, neuropsychology or forensic psychology. This may take approximately 2 to 3 years.


A Medical Degree is a long and difficult course that gets even more demanding during your housemanship. Not sure if you’re up for the challenge? Take this quiz to see if you’re Medicine material.

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#3. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication but psychologists can’t

Differences between a psychiatrist and psychologist - 3 Psychiatrists can prescribe medication but psychologists can’t

Both psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to solve mental health problems but their approach to finding a solution may be different.

A psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who specialises in treating mental illnesses. They diagnose a variety of mental health disorders, from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia, and use their knowledge of human behaviour and genetics to develop a treatment plan for their patients.

As they are registered medical practitioners, psychiatrists can prescribe medication to their patients in combination with psychotherapy as part of their treatment. Mental disorders, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be treated effectively with the help of medication.

A psychologist, on the other hand, is an expert in human behaviour. They conduct laboratory and psychological tests, conduct interviews to assess the behaviour of individuals and help their patients cope with life problems and mental health disorders.

Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. Instead, they use various methods, such as counselling and psychotherapy, to treat their patients.


According to Multimedia University’s International Student Engagement Counselor, Dr Jenet Roslin, counselling focuses on a person’s current issues (e.g. stress, grief, addiction, etc.) one at a time, while psychotherapy focuses on understanding the person’s past and may be suitable for those with traumatic backgrounds. Both counselling and psychotherapy can overlap as a counsellor also works deeply with the client on heavier issues, like a psychotherapist.

#4. Psychiatrists primarily work in the medical field while psychologists can work in a wider range of fields

Differences between a psychiatrist and psychologist - 4 Psychiatrists work in medical field while psychologists work in a wider range of fields

While psychiatrists can work in various settings, such as hospitals, universities, private practice or nursing homes, their careers primarily revolve around the medical field due to their background as medical practitioners.

In contrast, psychologists can specialise in a variety of fields, giving them a wider range of career opportunities. Aside from clinical psychology that focuses on mental health disorders, other specialisations include sports psychology (helping athletes enhance their performance), industrial and organisational psychology (improving efficiency and employee well-being in the workplace) and cognitive psychology (exploring how people process information).

A psychologist can also become a certified counsellor by obtaining a license from the Malaysian Board of Counsellors and registering with the Malaysian Association of Counsellors. A counsellor utilises his or her counseling skills and techniques to provide help to people with mental health problems and others who need emotional and psychological support.

And there you have it! We hope that by highlighting the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, you’ll have a clearer picture of which career best suits your interests. The mental health line is a challenging field to pursue, but it is a noble profession and can be extremely rewarding. Good luck!

Keen on studying Psychology? Here are the 10 major branches of psychology for you to consider.

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    Kamini Senthilathiban

    Kamini Senthilathiban

    Self-proclaimed pun-meister 6000. Kant stop, won't stop.