Psychiatrist vs. Therapist: Which Type of Mental Health Professional Should I See?

Josh Spurlock

Question:

Jack asks, “How do I know if I should see a counselor or psychiatrist?” Read more to find out what Licensed Therapist Josh Spurlock says about the difference between a psychiatrist and a counselor, what to expect in a psychiatry appointment or a therapy session, and how medication can play a vital role when treating something that has a biological component.

About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Josh Spurlock, MA, LPC, CST is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Sex Therapists with over 10,000 hours of clinical experience. Josh specializes in Marriage Counseling and Sex Therapy. You can schedule an appointment with Josh for online counseling.

Video Transcript

(Transcript is generated by a software and may have discrepancies from the video.)

Tori

Welcome to MyCounselor Online. I’m Tori, and this is Asking for a Friend. In this video, we’re sitting down with Licensed Counselor Josh Spurlock to talk about the difference between a psychiatrist and a therapist, and whether or not you should see one. Stay tuned.

Josh Spurlock on the Difference Between Psychiatrists and Therapists

Knowing the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists can be confusing. To know who it is you need to work with, let’s first talk about what the different titles mean.

What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, or an M.D. They graduated from medical school, just like your primary care physician, surgeon, or any other medical doctor that you would see. They specialize in psychotropics and medication management that is specific to the brain.

What Do Psychiatrists Do?

A long time ago, psychiatrists used to do therapy, and would prescribe medication when necessary, or when it would be helpful to the counseling process. In modern times, that’s not really how it’s done anymore. Psychiatrists are really limited in supply, so their days tend to be completely full with medication management.

So what they do is, they assess the situation to determine if a medication is called for, and if so, they prescribe that medication and set up a follow up appointment for you to come in.

What to Expect at a Psychiatry Appointment

Meeting with a psychiatrist is very similar to meeting with your family physician; you come in, they ask a few questions, a nurse will take vitals, and then they will write you a script, and set a follow up appointment to see how the medication is going.

That’s what it’s like to see a psychiatrist. Sometimes, depending on what is going on with you, you may need some medication management. If so, a psychiatrist may be a good option for you.

A lot of times, you can also get some assistance through your primary care physician for most medications, and your primary care physician can be easier to get into than a psychiatrist.

What is a Counselor?

Counselors are a totally different story. Psychologists and Licensed Professional Counselors are individuals who do therapy. In most states, they don’t prescribe medications.

What to Expect in a Therapy Session

When you meet with them, they do an assessment on what you’re experiencing, and plan out a counseling treatment to address those needs. Sometimes that may include referring you to a psychiatrist or primary care physician, to see if medication is called for in your situation, to go alongside therapy.

Counseling and Medication

In all cases, if you get prescribed medication, for anxiety and depression for instance, the medication label will say that you need to do counseling in conjunction with that medication. The medication is going to address the symptoms, but not the life effect that either caused or effects the situation that you’re dealing with.

So that’s the scope of what a psychiatrist and a counselor does.

The Importance of Medication When Treating Something That has a Biological Component

There are some things that we’re experiencing in life that have a biological origin to them, or are influenced heavily by a biological component. And if we don’t address the biological component of it, we will find that therapy gets stuck, and we just kind of spin our wheels, because we’re bumping up against something that’s chemically happening within the brain and body. If we don’t address that, we’re not going to be able to get through it. And so in certain circumstances, there’s just an absolute need for it.

And most of us, myself included, don’t like taking any medications that we don’t need, especially ones that involve our brain. Our brain is an organ like any other organ in our body, and sometimes it needs help from medication.

While I don’t like wearing glasses, I’m thankful that they’re available, because I like to be able to see.

I count it as a gift and a blessing that the Lord has made it possible, through science and medicine, for me to put glasses on and be able to see clearly, even though they can be obnoxious, and I’d rather not have to be wearing them if I could avoid them.

Tori:

If you like this video and want to see more, go ahead and subscribe to our Youtube channel. If you have a question for one of our counselors, submit it at mycounselor.online/ask. We love answering your questions. We’ll see you next time on Asking for a Friend.

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