The Differences: Psychology vs. Psychiatry

It’s the new year; a time when many people choose to implement serious changes in their lives. In the U.S. new year’s resolutions about physical health and financial stability overshadow other decisions by a wide margin. Mental health should also be included in these decisions.

Although American adults are seeking treatment in greater numbers than ever before, there are still many who do not. Some, due to stigma, and some, due to mental health not being seen as a key part of overall health. A couple of questions tend to come up in seeking treatment:

  • Should I see a psychiatrist or a psychologist?
  • What’s the difference in all these titles anyway?

Starting a mental health journey can seem overwhelming, so we’re going to break down some basic differences between psychology and psychiatry.

Defining Psychotherapy Terms

Let’s begin with some basic definitions related to psychotherapy from the American Psychological Association (APA) Glossary of Psychological Terms.



“Any of a group of therapies, used to treat psychological disorders, that focus on changing faulty behaviors, thoughts, perceptions, and emotions that may be associated with specific disorders.”



“The scientific study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes.”



“An individual with a doctoral degree in psychology from an organized, sequential program in a regionally accredited university or professional school.”



“An individual who has obtained an M.D. degree and also has completed postdoctoral specialty training in mental and emotional disorders; a psychiatrist may prescribe medications for the treatment of psychological disorders.”

Psychology vs. Psychiatry

Every person is different and thus their route to mental health will be different. Often when people think of treatment, images of a psychological practice come to mind. Over the years this has been depicted with a patient reclining on a couch, while a doctor furiously scribbles notes, but doesn’t say much. Reality is a bit different.

Psychologists interactively discuss many topics with their patients to help them work through their problems. This is why psychology is referred to as “the talking cure” or “talk therapy.” They use their training and preferred approach, along with scientifically-validated procedures, to work with patients in the hopes of improving quality of life. Appointments with psychologists are longer, usually 30 minutes to one hour, as it takes time to get to know a patient and which methods and practical steps will best help them move forward in health.

The other image that comes to mind is that of a doctor who hands out medications, which is not always the go-to choice for these professionals. Also backed by great amounts of scientific research, psychiatrists are brought in when it is determined talk therapy is not a sufficient source of help for a patient. It is then medications are considered. As they are medical doctors, psychiatrists are able to write prescriptions based on a patient’s specific needs.

Psychiatrists have to be aware of the effects of various medications and the interactions new prescriptions could have with existing ones. They ask questions to find out how effectively (or not) medications work and will also ask questions to determine if and when changes need to be made to dosage. After initial intake appointments, sessions with psychiatrists or nurse practitioners, tend to be relatively short, often less than 15 minutes, unless there is a need for major changes.

If you decided to prioritize your mental health this year, the team at Holiner Psychiatric Group is here to help. The professionals at Holiner include psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants with various specialities to help children, youth and adults. To get started, fill out our new patient appointment form or call us in Dallas at 972-566-4591, or McKinney at 469-742-0199.

  1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. The Differences: Psychology vs. Psychiatry

Have a Question? Let’s discuss it.

  • View our list of Insurance companies we currently accept.

    Any message submitted cannot be guaranteed to be received, read or answered, within any specific timeframe. PLEASE DO NOT submit sensitive or confidential information via email. The Holiner Psychiatric Group cannot guarantee the delivery and/or confidentiality of any email message submitted. A physician is on call for urgent matters after office hours. If this is a medical emergency, please call 911. For the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)