Is a Psychologist a Doctor?

Is a Psychologist a Doctor?
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Question: Is a psychologist a doctor?  Who should I see to treat my depression?

Answer:   In order to answer your question, I will need to ask you to clarify what you mean by "doctor."  Often when people use this term what they really mean is a Doctor of Medicine, or MD.  Technically though anyone who possesses a doctoral-level degree is a doctor, including psychologists, who will generally have either a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).

  So, in that sense, they are indeed doctors, but of a different type than what you may mean.

However, if what you really want to know is whether a psychologist can prescribe and administer medical treatments for depression, such as medications or procedures like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), then, the answer is no, they cannot do these things.  A psychologist primarily works in one of two areas: psychological research and administration or working with patients through counseling and/or psychotherapy

Counseling tends to be a short-term type of intervention aimed at helping the patient work through his problems.  Psychotherapy, on the other hand, involves working with the patient on a long-term basis to delve into his thought processes and way of being in the world in order to determine why he is experiencing the problems that he is.

Although psychologists usually cannot prescribe medications, there are certain exceptions to this rule.

Certain entities - including the states of Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana, as well as in the Public Health Service, the U.S. military and Guam - do allow appropriately-trained clinical psychologists to prescribe medication, but with certain limitations.

In most cases though, if you need medications or other medical treatments for your depression, then you will need to visit a different type of mental health professional called a "psychiatrist."  A psychiatrist is an MD, so is able to provide these treatments.

  In addition, he is trained in how to provide psychotherapy, although more and more psychiatrists are opting to concentrate on the medical aspects of treatment, preferring to instead refer their patients to another mental health professional to address the psychological aspects of their illness. 

Other physicians, such as your family doctor, may also prescribe psychiatric medications and this can be a good option for many, especially if your case is not complicated and responds well to treatment with an antidepressant.  Seeing your personal physician is also a good idea in order to rule out any other potential causes for your depressed mood, including certain medical illnesses like hypothyroidism and medication side effects.

Both psychotherapy and medications are able to help people with depression; and, often, people will do well with just psychotherapy alone or with medications alone.  Other times, a combination of both will give the best results.  In cases where a person's depression has been difficult to treat or medications are not a good option, treatments such as ECT or TMS may provide better results.


"About Prescribing Psychologists."  Practice Central.  APA Practice Organization.  Accessed:  January 5, 2016.

"Psychiatry:  Is It for Me?"  American Psychiatric Association Website.  American Psychiatric Association.  Accessed:  January 5, 2016.

Rehagen, Tony.  "Psychologist or Psychiatrist:  Which Is Right for You?"  WebMD.  WebMD, LLC.  Reviewed by:  Joseph Goldberg, MD on September 16, 2015.  Acessed:  January 5, 2016.

"The Difference Between a PsyD and a PhD in Psychology."  Capella University Blog.  Capella University.  Accessed:  January 5, 2016.

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