Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Psychiatrists vs psychologists

4-minute read

Many people are confused about the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists. There are many similarities and some differences. It is important to find one that suits you.

Education and approach

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with at least 11 years of training. Psychiatrists have studied first to become a medical doctor. Once they have graduated as a doctor, they take on more study and training to become a psychiatrist.

When they study psychiatry, they learn to diagnose, treat and prevent mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. They can prescribe medications, like antidepressants, and can usually admit you to hospital. If this is needed.

Psychologists usually have a 4-year university degree. After university, they typically complete a further 2 years of education and training to obtain 'general registration'.

General registration as a psychologist enables someone to work in areas of psychology in which they are competent and to use the title 'Psychologist'. Some psychologists choose to complete further training to become endorsed in specific areas of psychology such as clinical psychology.

What are the similarities between psychiatrists and psychologists?

There are many similarities between psychiatrists and psychologists.

Both are trained to understand how your brain works, how you think and how you behave. Both are able to use different types of counselling and psychotherapy to help.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists use various forms of therapy to help with problems like depression, anxiety, stress, grief, bipolar disorder, relationship breakdowns, drug and alcohol addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. They can help you develop better ways of thinking and behaving.

What are the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists?

In many situations, it is hard to know whether seeing a psychologist or seeing a psychiatrist would be a better choice.

But there are differences. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications, which psychologists can't do. Because of this, psychiatrists tend to look after more people with severe mental illness who need medication. Psychiatrists can also admit people to hospital, which psychologists can't do.

You can read more about psychiatrists at the Royal & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, about psychologists at the Australian Psychological Society and about clinical psychologists at Australian Clinical Psychology Association.

Do I need a referral?

Your GP can refer you to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, who will talk to you about your problems. They will then let you know about the best treatment for you. Many have particular approaches they favour — see if they suit you.

If you are the parent or carer of a child, the psychiatrist or psychologist will work with you and other health professionals.

You can see both a psychiatrist and a psychologist without a referral, but if you do, Medicare won't cover any of the costs.

You can use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

What do they cost?

Medicare covers some of the costs of seeing a psychiatrist if you have a referral or a mental health treatment plan from your doctor. Private health insurance doesn’t cover the costs unless you’re in hospital. Ask about the psychiatrist’s fees before making an appointment.

Treatment by a psychiatrist in public hospitals is usually free. Treatment in private hospitals is partly covered for a limited period by private health insurance.

Medicare also covers some of the costs of seeing a psychologist if you have a mental health treatment plan from your GP. You can see a psychologist without a mental health plan, but Medicare doesn’t help with the fees. Private health insurance may also cover some of the costs of seeing a psychologist. Check with your fund to see if you are covered.

Read more about low cost or free mental health services.

Where to get help

To speak to someone urgently call Lifeline on 13 11 14, SANE on 1800 18 7263 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

To find a psychologist or psychiatrist, you can:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Psychiatrists and psychologists: what's the difference? | Your Health in Mind

Many people get psychiatrists and psychologists confused. But there are some important differences.

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Cost to see a psychiatrist (Australia) | Your Health in Mind

If you see a psychiatrist for a private appointment you may have to pay a fee.

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Who can help with depression? | Your Health in Mind

The people who can treat you for depression include GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Who can help with borderline personality disorder? | Your Health in Mind

BPD can be treated by psychiatrists and psychologists. It is sometimes also treated by GPs, nurses, social workers and o...

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Psychological treatments | Your Health in Mind

Psychological treatment is sometimes called psychotherapy or talking therapy.It involves talking over your thought...

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Treatment of schizophrenia | Your Health in Mind

The best treatment for schizophrenia is a combination of medication, psychological treatment and community support.

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Better access to mental health care: fact sheet for patients

Information about Medicare rebates available to patients for selected mental health services provided by GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists and eligible social workers and occupational therapists.

Read more on Department of Health website

Who can help with eating disorders? | Your Health in Mind

Doctors (such as psychiatrists), clinical dietitians and psychologists can help with eating disorders.

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

The Therapeutic Team

Some people will benefit from stand-alone therapies, which involve working with only one professional, while others willneed to be treated for the physical, psychological, nutritional and functional aspects of their eating disorder

Read more on NEDC - National Eating Disorders Collaboration website

Signs and diagnosis of autism in adults - Autism Awareness Australia

As an adult, pursuing a diagnosis is a personal choice. Its important to remember that it can be a very positive and helpful thing. Most autistic adults say it has helped them to understand their own difficulties, and abilities, and can often bring a sense of relief.

Read more on Autism Awareness Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo