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What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a registered psychologist?


Author: Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division



A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with extra training in mental health who can choose to prescribe medications. Some use psychotherapy (‘talk therapies’) approaches like cognitive-behavioural therapy to treat mental health problems. Many psychiatrists work at hospitals, clinics, or health centres, and some have a private office. As they are specialist doctors, you will almost always need another doctor’s referral to see a psychiatrist, and fees are covered by MSP. If you have a valid BC Services or CareCard, you do not need to pay to see a psychiatrist.

A registered psychologist focuses on different talk therapy or counselling approaches to treatments, but they don’t prescribe medication. They have graduate degrees in psychology. There are two different ways to access registered psychologists: the public system and the private system. Registered psychologists in the public system work in some hospitals or schools. You may need a doctor’s referral to access the program, and costs are usually covered by MSP. However, most people need to access registered psychologists through the private system. To do this, you can contact the psychologist yourself—you do not need a referral. Costs are not covered by MSP, but they may be covered by employee health plans. A registered psychologist’s fees charged by hour vary, and some offer lower fees to people with lower incomes.

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the differences come down to how you pay for different services and how these professionals are educated. The practical differences in how they work are not always so clear. When it comes to your treatment and care, the most important part is finding a professional who supports your own goals. Are you really focused on fine-tuning medications? Are you looking for a particular therapy approach? Does the professional’s philosophy of care make sense to you? Do you like the professional you’re talking to and do you feel safe sharing your experiences? Ultimately, your relationship with the professional is what matters. Instead of focusing on designation, look for a professional who meets your needs and your expectations.

How can I find a psychiatrist or a registered psychologist?

  • Talk to your family doctor and ask for their recommendations

  • Ask local mental health organizations for help. You can find local branches through the provincial organizations behind HeretoHelp

  • Ask a community health centre, outpatient psychiatry program, or mental health team for suggestions

  • For a list of psychiatrists near you, search under ‘Specialist’ in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia’s Find a Physician Tool but remember that you will first need a referral from a doctor (like your family doctor)

  • For a list of psychologists near you, search in the British Columbia Psychological Association’s Find a Registered Psychologist tool and you can also learn more about finding a psychologist from the College of Psychologists of British Columbia

Where can I learn more?


About the author

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The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit


Q&A is for readers who want to take charge of their well-being, support a friend or loved one, find good help, or just learn more about mental health and substance use. Here, the information and resource experts at HeretoHelp will answer the questions that we’re asked most often. We'll offer tips and information, and we'll connect you with help in BC, Canada. If you have a question you’d like to ask, email us at [email protected], tweet @heretohelpbc, or log in to HeretoHelp and post a comment on this page.


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