Therapists and psychiatrists are often mentioned interchangeably when talking about treating mental health conditions. While they essentially perform similar tasks of treating mental health problems, the process of treatment and the discipline behind it are very different.

It is best to see a therapist for mild mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. However, for mental health conditions that begin to affect daily life and endanger the person’s life such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, a psychiatrist can offer a better treatment method.

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Type of Mental Health Condition

types of mental health conditions

Therapists and psychiatrists both treat mental health conditions. The difference in their discipline and methods, however, makes one either sufficient or better for treating certain conditions.

Therapists may be called psychologists, counselors, and psychotherapists. They specialize in talk therapy or providing an emotional outlet for the patient through constant communication with a therapist. They also help in creating strategies for symptom management and altering destructive and aggressive patient behavior.

Therapists usually perform individual or group therapy depending on the needs of the individual. Individual therapy involves one-on-one professional counseling for a person suffering from a mental health disorder. This is the conventional type of therapy where the patient is encouraged to open up to a counselor and cooperate.

Group therapy is also an effective form of therapy where the therapist facilitates the discussion among people suffering from similar mental health conditions. This provides a different dynamic to the usual one-on-one therapy session because it allows people who suffer from the stigma of mental health illness to communicate with people with similar conditions and experiences.

Psychiatrists handle worse and severe cases of mental health conditions including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and severe depression. This usually involves more intensive treatment in addition to talk therapy. Usually, psychiatrists are specialists in treating mental health conditions that begin to affect the patient’s health and safety. They diagnose patients using various steps including psychological tests, 1-on-1 evaluation, and laboratory testing.

Therapists have better training compared with psychiatrists in facilitating group therapies or navigating the inner thought structure of the patient to determine the root cause of the mental health condition. The loose and free nature of therapies conducted by therapists provides a certain degree of comfort that encourages patients to open up to themselves and others.

Psychiatrists, however, are better equipped to treat mental health patients through external means. While it is not usually required, patients who suffer from rapidly progressing mental health illnesses require a prescription for medication from a psychiatrist. This is intended to complement the effects of therapy for a more holistic treatment process. 



One of the main differences between therapists and psychiatrists is that the latter can prescribe medication for treating mental health conditions. These medications include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, stimulants, sedatives, and anti-psychotic medication. These medications are usually supplemented with psychotherapy.

Therapists can conduct assessments and evaluations through interviews and psychological testing. They are also adept in finding the differences among mental health illnesses which provides a better guide in assessing the proper treatment plan for the patient.

Psychiatrists, however, provide an overall health examination to assess and evaluate the various components of a patient’s well-being such as emotional, cognitive, and genetic. Based on the improvements on these various aspects, the psychiatrists can make adjustments to the dosages of medication.

Psychiatrists are also adept in more aggressive forms of therapy such as light therapy and electroconvulsive therapy. These types of therapy are reserved for more severe cases of mental illnesses where traditional therapy and medication are ineffective.

Methods of Treatment

Therapists and psychiatrists underwent different training, education track, and career path. Psychiatrists are trained in performing clinical procedures for treating mental health illnesses while therapists are better trained in understanding the mind of the patient through interviews and observation of symptoms.

Moreover, therapists and psychiatrists can undergo training in specific specialty fields. Therapists can undergo training in clinical psychology, neuropsychology, geropsychology, and many more, but the overall focus is on the theoretical understanding of the human mind.

A psychiatrist can also undergo specialty training in fields such as forensic psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and addiction medication. These fields lean more towards clinical methods of treating mental health illnesses.

Therapy is usually under the field of psychology but psychiatrists can also conduct therapies along with prescribing medication. However, therapists, as social scientists experts in the various theories of the mind and its corresponding behavioral patterns, are more capable of providing a supportive and understanding relationship with a patient.

Therapists rarely make demands to the patient. Instead, they provide education, suggestion, and guidance along with emotional support to encourage the patient to become mentally stronger.

Despite the differences in discipline, therapists and psychiatrists can work together to provide a more cohesive and integrated treatment plan for a mental health patient. However, treatment plans involving both a therapist and a psychiatrist can be costly.

Fees and Charges

Fees for hiring a therapist may vary depending on the location, license, and years of experience. However, a psychiatrist usually charges higher compared with psychologists.

Therapists are often specialists in theoretical research about mental health symptom management and behavior modification.

Psychiatrists complete medical school and psychiatric residency before getting their license. They are more adept in performing a complete medical assessment of the patient and performing various tests and therapies. They perform tests on the patient’s body to eliminate the possibility of any forms of physical illnesses or abnormalities that might be causing the mental health disorder. They are also able to assess drug and medication issues depending on the results of the tests.

Psychiatrists are strictly required to have a medical degree and license to practice for treating mental health illnesses with medication, which accounts for the higher fees.

Final Thoughts

Therapists and psychiatrists have different disciplines in treating mental health illnesses. Mental health patients can benefit from the opinion and specialties of therapists and psychiatrists for holistic treatment. Usually, however, patients who do not require medication do not need to consult a psychiatrist and can first consult a therapist for treatment.