Drugs Q & A

Can A U.S. Licensed Psychologist Prescribe Medication?

Who is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is someone who studies mental processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and the environment. Some psychologists work independently, doing research or working only with patients or clients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.

Practicing psychologists have the professional training and clinical skills to help people learn to cope more effectively with life issues and mental health problems. After years of graduate school and supervised training, they become licensed by their states to provide a number of services, including evaluations and psychotherapy. Psychologists help by using a variety of techniques based on the best available research and consider someone’s unique values, characteristics, goals, and circumstances.

Psychologists with doctoral degrees (either a Ph.D., PsyD, or EdD) receive one of the highest levels of education of all healthcare professionals, spending an average of seven years in education and training after they receive their undergraduate degrees. The American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that there are about 106,000 licensed psychologists in the United States.

What they do

Practicing psychologists help a wide variety of people and can treat many kinds of problems. Some people may talk to a psychologist because they have felt depressed, angry, or anxious for a long time. Or, they want help for a chronic condition that is interfering with their lives or physical health. Others may have short-term problems they want help navigating, such as feeling overwhelmed by a new job or grieving the death of a family member.

Psychologists can help people learn to cope with stressful situations, overcome addictions, manage their chronic illnesses, and tests and assessments can help diagnose a condition or tell more about the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. These tests may evaluate intellectual skills, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, vocational aptitude and preference, personality characteristics, and neuropsychological functioning.

Can a licensed psychologist prescribe medication?

No, licensed psychologists are not medical doctors, which means that, with the exception of a few states, psychologists cannot write prescriptions or perform medical procedures.

What states allow psychologists to prescribe medications?

In the United States, psychologists can prescribe medications in five states namely: Louisiana, New Mexico, Illinois, Iowa, and Idaho. In such cases, psychologists are required to receive proper training and are permitted to prescribe certain medicines used in the treatment of mental disorders.

Can psychologists prescribe Xanax?

In general, any physician or psychiatrist can prescribe anti-anxiety medication. However, you must see a doctor in person for anxiety medications that are classified as controlled substances. Even online doctors cannot prescribe benzodiazepines, such as Xanax.

Differences Between Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Unlike Psychologists, Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors. The major differences between the two lie in many different areas, including their approaches, areas of work, and educational paths.

Here are the ways in which they differ:

 Psychiatrists treat mental issues through medications; Psychologists treat them with therapies

The biggest difference between the two is in the approach they take towards treating mental disorders. A Psychiatrist takes a medication-first approach in their treatment. Once the diagnosis is done, they build a treatment course plan for the patient, focusing on managing symptoms through the use of medications and psychotherapy. While they may also be trained in psychotherapies like psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more, in a typical mental health care setting, the work of therapies is generally taken care of by Psychologists.

Psychologists primarily utilize different types of therapies to manage symptoms and help their patients cope with their life problems. They may use different forms of therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Gestalt Therapy, Humanistic Therapy, etc. They are also qualified to conduct psychometric tests, which evaluate a person’s mental state and personal attributes to determine the right course of action for the patient.

For example, if a person is suffering from depression and recently attempted suicide, a Psychiatrist will first prescribe anti-depressant medications to the person to manage the suicidal tendencies and make the person more open to talking and treatment. After stabilization, the psychologist would start the therapy to get to the root cause of the person’s difficulties and help them manage their negative thoughts and emotions.

Thus, psychologists and psychiatrists work together in many mental healthcare settings to help patients.

Psychiatrists primarily deal with mental disorders. For Psychologists, it is just one branch

Psychiatrists are medical doctors and thus they mainly work in healthcare settings such as hospitals, mental health clinics, or private practice. Within the domain of medicine, their specialization is mental health and their work only concerns that. Psychiatrists can specialize further in the field of mental health, including areas such as Forensic Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, Clinical Neurophysiology, Pain Management, Sleep Medicine, Brain Injury Medicine, etc.

On the other hand, since Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior, it can be applied to virtually all fields, mental health being one. The word “Psychologist” is an umbrella term for many different sub-fields of Psychology such as Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Child Psychology, Sports Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Educational Psychology, and more. Psychology graduates can choose to specialize in any of them, depending on their interests. Thus, Psychologists don’t always work with mental disorders.

 Psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, but Psychologists can not

Psychiatrists are doctors of medicine and are legally equipped to prescribe medications to patients. Many disorders such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), etc. respond well to medications and are primarily treated through them, even though therapy can help.

Psychologists, however, cannot prescribe such medications. They conduct psychological tests to diagnose patients and treat them through therapy. In severe cases where medication may prove effective, Psychologists refer such cases to Psychiatrists.

 Psychiatry requires a degree in Medicine. Psychology requires a UG & PG degree in Psychology

A Psychiatrist is a physician with a medical degree in Psychiatry. To be a Psychiatrist you will first have to complete your MBBS, followed by an M.D. in Psychiatry. Thus, a total of 7.5 years of study (5.5 years of MBBS + 2 years of M.D.) are required.

To build a career as a Psychologist, you need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology followed by a Master’s degree in Psychology. For those seeking to further their education in this field, exploring UTS Online psychology courses can offer advanced knowledge and specialized training.

To practice as a Clinical Psychologist (treating mental disorders), you require an additional 2 years of study to obtain an M.Phil. in Clinical Psychology. A total of 5 to 7 years of study (3 years of B.A. + 2 years of M.A. + 2 years if you go for an M.Phil.) are required.

Psychiatrists deal with complex psychological conditions; Psychologists deal more with behavioral and developmental issues

Psychiatrists tend to treat people who need help with complex medical and psychological conditions such as severe depression, psychotic behavior, severe anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, etc.

Psychologists are more likely to see people with conditions that can be treated/managed effectively with psychological treatments, such as behavioral problems, adjustment issues, learning difficulties, mild depression, and anxiety.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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