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3/27/23 blog post

what’s the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist and a social worker/therapist?

Many people use the words psychiatrist, psychologist and therapist interchangeably. While there are a lot of commonalities between the three professions, they are also very different. The three specialists can work closely together help improve patients’ mental health. Before we dive in – it’s ok if you aren’t sure which could be helpful for your child! Our Mental Health Resource Connection can help point you in the right direction. 

We sat down with three of our mental health providers at Dayton Children’s Hospital to explain the difference between these three.

what is a psychiatrist?

by Katherine Winner, MD, chief of psychiatry at Dayton Children’s Hospital

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and can prescribe medication. Psychiatrists can assess, treat and provide medication management for mental, behavioral and developmental conditions. Often times patients will see a psychologist or therapist first and then be referred to psychiatry if medication is deemed necessary. Psychiatrists also do research, a very important contribution to the profession, both academically and clinically

At Dayton Children’s, psychiatry provides services for the following concerns:

  • Adjustment disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Developmental disorders
  • Disruptive behavior disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma related disorders
  • Psychosis

what is a psychologist?

by Mary Beth DeWitt, PhD, chief of psychology at Dayton Children’s Hospital

Psychologists hold doctorate degrees, but they do not attend medical school and therefore cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists assess and treat mental, behavioral and developmental conditions. They aim to reduce psychological distress and promote psychological well-being. Clinical psychologists also provide consultation, training and supervision to other professionals and other agencies. Like psychiatrists, psychologists do research, too.

At Dayton Children’s, psychology provides these services:

  • Address functioning in children with chronic medical conditions
  • Address adjustment issues related to medical conditions
  • Provide psychoeducational assessment for children with complex learning and behavioral health conditions that are not addressed at school

what is a therapist/social worker?

by Jeremy Hayworth, LPCC-S, program director of outpatient therapy at Dayton Children’s Hospital

Licensed social workers and counselors (both often referred to as therapists) obtain a master’s degree, then must be approved by their licensing board to practice. Therapists can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan for a mental health condition. Therapy often includes individual, group sessions and family sessions to help reduce symptoms and improve their management of symptoms.

more about the Mental Health Resource Connection

The Mental Health Resource Connection program is a service that connects patients and families to available mental health services in the community. The service is administered by social workers experienced in evaluating pediatric mental health needs and the services required to meet those needs. If you’re looking for connection to mental health resources, click here.