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Therapy vs Psychiatry: Differences, Similarities, and How Each Can Help Mental Health

Deciding between therapy vs. psychiatry might seem like a difficult choice, but once you know more about each field, it becomes obvious that they’re helpful in very different ways.


Therapy is provided by trained psychologists or therapists, while psychiatrists practice psychiatry. Both play crucial roles in fostering mental well-being, yet they differ in approach, methods, and sometimes, the issues they are best suited to address. 


Therapy vs psychiatry: How they differ


Therapy, also known as psychotherapy, focuses on providing a supportive environment where individuals can explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and learn skills and techniques to manage them. Therapists employ various strategies to help individuals understand and regulate difficult emotions, develop coping strategies, and work through life challenges or mental health issues.


Therapy can be short-term, addressing specific struggles, or longer-term, exploring deeper personal or psychological challenges. 


Therapy is also evidence-based, meaning it is rooted in scientific findings. The skills and strategies that therapists use to help people improve their mental and emotional well-being are subject to repeated evaluation by researchers before being applied in therapy sessions.


In India, counselling psychologists and clinical psychologists provide therapy; clinical psychologists can also diagnose mental health disorders and developmental disorders, but counselling psychologists cannot.


Counsellors may also advertise therapy services (typically for a specific challenge, like addiction, or relationship problems); however, the counselling field in India is highly unregulated and many have minimal to no credible training.


Psychiatry, on the other hand, is a field of medicine. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental health disorders. Their training allows them to prescribe medication, perform medical tests, and recommend other biological treatments alongside or instead of therapy.


Psychiatry often focuses on managing mental health disorders from a medical standpoint, considering both biological and psychological components.


Therapy vs psychiatry: How they’re similar


Despite their differences, therapy and psychiatry share the common goal of improving mental well-being. Professionals in both fields can provide diagnoses and often work collaboratively to develop treatment plans tailored to shared patients. 


A holistic approach to mental health often involves both therapeutic and psychiatric elements, especially for conditions that benefit from a combination of medication and talking therapies.


Therapy vs psychiatry: When each are appropriate


Therapy is particularly effective for individuals dealing with emotional distress, life transitions, relationship issues, and specific mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.


It is best suited for those seeking to understand the root causes of their feelings or behaviors, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and improve their quality of life through guided self-exploration and skill development.


Psychiatry may be more appropriate for individuals experiencing severe mental health disorders that have a significant biological component, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression. These conditions may require medication to manage symptoms effectively, alongside therapy to address behavioral and emotional aspects.


But while distinct, therapy and psychiatry often work well together. Even when conditions do require medication, the person can still benefit from therapy once symptoms have stabilised. In such cases, therapy often aims at helping them establish a structure that supports better day-to-day functioning, preventing relapses, and strengthening their relationships.


Therapy vs psychiatry: Making the choice right for you


Choosing between therapy and psychiatry depends on individual needs. Some may benefit from therapy alone, while others might need the medical intervention that psychiatry offers. Many find a combined approach most effective, especially for complex or persistent mental health issues.


If in doubt of whether you need therapy or psychiatry services, consulting a clinical psychologist is a good place to start.


Clinical psychologists typically offer therapy and are also able to diagnose mental health disorders, refer patients to a psychiatrist if needed, and develop treatment plans that combine therapy with psychiatric care.




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  • Locher C, Meier S, Gaab J. Psychotherapy: A World of Meanings. Front Psychol. 2019 Mar 22;10:460.
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  • Psychotherapies (U.S. National Institute of Mental Health)


Vidula V Sawant (M.A., M.Phil., CRR No. A80980) is a clinical psychologist with 4+ years of experience and a passion for understanding the complexities of our minds and behaviours.

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