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For example, I know that psychiatrists can prescribe medicine and psychologists CAN'T, but are there any things that clinical psychologists are specialised in that psychiatrists aren't? If not, then why do we have psychologists and not just psychiatrists? Sorry if it sounds like a stupid question, I'm just a little confused lol.

Is it correct to say that people who don't or might not need drugs for their problems would go to psychologists instead psychiatrists because it is significantly cheaper?

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they are also able to provide meditation and breathing techniques for things such as panic attacks.

So psychiatrists can't do that? The only thing I can see psychologists doing outside the academia is being a cheaper alternative to a psychiatrist. If clinical psychologists (is that the same as non-academic psychologists?) charged the same as psychiatrists, why doesn't everyone go to psychiatrists?

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    $\begingroup$ Note that there are some differences in legal entities, membership in overseeing organizations, cost subsidizing, and qualifications between different jurisdictions, so it would be good to specify the country you are asking about. Psychiatrists subsidized by government health programs may not be able to provide certain types of services that are not covered by the program for example. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


Short answer is that psychiatrists are medical doctors and (more often than not) medical researchers, and thus psychiatrists themselves often do not practice psychotherapy.


Psychiatrists are physicians, which means they have received a medical degree (M.D.) and have completed medical training, along with an additional four-year residency in psychiatry. Some psychiatrists pursue additional fellowship training after their residency. Thus, it takes at least twelve years of practice to become a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrists are legally allowed to prescribe psychotropic medications to patients. This is because they are medically trained to do so, having completed a medical degree and medical training. A large portion of this medical training is dedicated to learning how psychotropic medications work in the brain and in the body, particularly in those of patients with mental illnesses. For this reason, psychiatrists are generally more aware of the physical symptoms of illness (much like a doctor would be) as well as the mental symptoms, and thus must make an informed evaluation to determine whether the patients' symptoms are due to physical or mental factors (or both).

Though psychiatrists can perform psychotherapy, the vast majority are purely medical researchers. A psychiatrist may thus refer a patient to a clinical psychologist or a specifically-trained therapist for their individual psychotherapy needs. A physician or psychiatrist (both trained in psychopharmacology by definition) who both practices psychotherapy and prescribes psychoactive medication may refer to themselves as a "psychopharmacologist", though this is more of a distinction than a formal occupation.

Clinical psychologists

Clinical psychologists are PhDs who have received several years of graduate training in the science and theory of psychology-based dysfunction and mental illness. They do not receive medical training, but they do undergo 2-4 years of supervised clinical practice before they are licensed as clinical psychologists.

A clinical psychologist's job description is a bit more broad than that of a psychiatrist. While many provide psychotherapy to patients suffering from mental illness, other clinical psychologists may opt to teach, administer psychological testing, conduct research, work with administrators, develop treatment and prevention programs, or work as psychological consultants.

Though there is very little that a clinical psychologist can do that a psychiatrist simply can't do, a clinical psychologist is trained in mental health and well-being first and foremost, and thus is typically called on to perform tasks related to mental health (such as psychotherapy or psychometric testing). The difference may be comparable to that of a professor versus a teacher. Though the professor typically undergoes more training, they split their focus between their research and their students (and may prioritize research first), whereas high school teachers are often teachers through-and-through, and thus their primary focus is on the students. Thus the teacher role is a bit more interpersonal.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Is the second to the last paragraph really supposed to have the word 'clinical'. Just realized they could be highschool teachers, human resources people, highschool or gradeschool counselors and the like. wasn't thinking correctly at the time. haha. anyway the primary point is the clinical psychologist vs psychiatrist $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ the teacher vs professor part is a good analogy, but which one is the professor? the psychiatrist? $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ @JackBauer Yup! The professor would be the psychiatrist in the analogy. You might also find this helpful. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ The difference between a counseling psychologist and a clinical psychologist has essentially faded by this point. The only robust difference is that clinical psychologists typically work with individuals with severe mental illness, whereas counseling psychologists typically work with comparatively 'healthier' patients. Though this is not a cut-and-dry distinction. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. Plenty of psychologists can fit into the 'non-psychiatric psychologists who don't provide psychotherapy' bucket. I/O Psychologists and sports psychologists, for example. In the US, you can use the title of 'psychologist' as long as you have a PhD in psychology, though you must be registered clinically to practice psychology. Also see here. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 5:07

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