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Coronavirus Update: What patients and families need to know

The Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist

Outside the medical profession, there is confusion about the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists. Both are doctors trained to assess, diagnose and care for behavioral, emotional and developmental disorders - but there are some significant differences.

What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist has an M.D. (medical degree), will have graduated from medical school, completed a medical internship, done three years of residency in adult psychiatry and two years of additional training in child and adolescent psychiatry if they work with children. Because of their training, psychiatrists have a deep understanding of a person’s brain chemistry and as medical doctors, they can prescribe medications if the treatment calls for it.

What is a Psychologist?

Psychologists have doctoral degrees in psychology, either a research-based Ph.D. or clinically-based Psy.D. They are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications. Rather, psychologists take a more behavioral approach to care, using various therapeutic techniques. They also have extensive training in psychometric assessment or testing for IQ and learning disabilities.

Conditions Our Specialists Treat

At Children’s National Hospital there is actually a lot of overlap between the services provided by our psychiatrists and psychologists. In fact, many treatment plans involve both types of doctors.

Our psychiatrists and psychologists treat a variety of conditions, including:

Anorexia nervosa
Learning disorders
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Major depression
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
Bipolar disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Bulimia nervosa
Panic disorder
Coping with chronic medical illnesses including food allergies, diabetes, celiac, cancer, chronic pain and HIV
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Disruptive behaviors
Dysthymic disorder
Separation anxiety disorder
Eating and feeding disorders
Social phobia
Generalized anxiety disorder  

Contact Us

For more information or to make an appointment, call our Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at 202-476-5980 or our Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health at 202-476-5995. If you are unsure about who to contact, speak to your primary care doctor or call either number - we will be happy to direct you to the care your child needs.