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12 min read

Psychiatrist vs therapist: Who can diagnose mental health disorders?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Apr 19, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

Table of contents

The complexities of mental health care lead to pressing questions, like wondering what type of healthcare provider is right for you or can a therapist diagnose mental health disorders? 

In the sections that follow, we discuss the different types of mental health professionals, the diagnostic process, and what to expect when looking for a professional opinion on your mental health. With this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to make informed decisions about where to seek help.

As mental health awareness grows, so does the demand for qualified professionals who can provide accurate mental health diagnoses, therapy, and effective treatment plans. With Klarity, you can hand-pick a mental health provider that aligns with your needs and is capable of providing an accurate diagnosis of your ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), insomnia, or other mental health condition.

Find a provider online or in person on Klarity today.

Licensed providers on Klarity provide personalized treatment. Find a provider that matches your needs and preferences.

Can a therapist diagnose mental health disorders?

In many regions, therapists aren’t authorized to formally or independently diagnose mental health disorders. Instead, they are trained to recognize symptoms, assess the severity of the client’s condition, and provide support tailored to their needs. Therapists may use standardized assessment tools and diagnostic criteria as part of their evaluation process, but the formal diagnosis is often made by a psychiatrist or another qualified mental health professional, like a psychiatric pharmacist.

Therapists do play a vital role in the diagnostic process by conducting thorough assessments, collaborating with clients to understand their experiences and challenges, and making appropriate referrals when needed. They work closely with psychiatrists and other members of the mental health team to ensure comprehensive care for clients.

Can a psychiatrist diagnose mental health disorders?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of mental health disorders. As licensed physicians, they’ve completed medical school and residency training in psychiatry, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of mental health conditions.

One of the primary roles of a psychiatrist is to conduct comprehensive psychiatric evaluations to assess the mental and emotional well-being of their patients. Based on their evaluation, psychiatrists are authorized to diagnose mental health disorders, including but not limited to anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, and substance use disorders. In addition to making diagnoses, psychiatrists can prescribe medication, provide psychotherapy, and coordinate care with other healthcare professionals to ensure comprehensive treatment and support for their patients.

Therapist vs psychiatrist

Now that you know who a therapist can diagnose, you might be wondering how these professionals differ from others like psychiatrists.

Though both therapists and psychiatrists aim to improve their patients’ mental health, their qualifications, methods of diagnosis, and treatment approaches differ. Understanding these distinctions can help you make an informed decision about your mental health care, especially when considering the convenience of online platforms.

Do therapists prescribe medication?

One of the most significant differences between therapists and psychiatrists is the ability to prescribe medication. While therapists can diagnose and treat mental health disorders through psychotherapy and other counseling techniques, they’re not licensed to prescribe medication. 

If medication is considered necessary for treatment, a therapist will usually refer the patient to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation.

Do psychiatrists provide therapy?

Contrary to a common misconception, psychiatrists can indeed offer psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” as part of the treatment process. However, the frequency and depth of these sessions can vary widely. Many psychiatrists focus on medication management, which means the time allotted for psychotherapy may be limited. But there are psychiatrists who integrate psychotherapy into their practice to provide a holistic approach to mental health care.

In essence, the choice between a therapist and a psychiatrist should hinge on your individual needs, the severity of your condition, and whether medication is likely to be a part of your treatment plan.

What mental health providers can diagnose patients/mental health conditions/disorders?

Knowing who can diagnose mental health conditions is critical when you’re looking for professional help. Going to the right provider not only ensures you receive a diagnosis but also get the treatment you need.

Below are some of the mental health providers who can diagnose mental health conditions.

  • Psychiatrists: These are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. A medical doctor has gone through comprehensive training that qualifies them to distinguish mental health issues from other medical conditions, prescribe medication, and offer therapy sessions. 
  • Clinical psychologists: These practitioners hold a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D., and are trained in diagnosing and treating emotional and mental disorders primarily through psychological testing and psychotherapy.
  • Licensed therapists (LPCs): These professionals hold state licensure and have undergone extensive training to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders. Their focus often includes both psychotherapy and the formulation of treatment plans tailored to individual mental health concerns, which may include prescribing medication if determined to be appropriate.
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs): These are nurse practitioners who have specialized training in psychiatric nursing. They can diagnose mental conditions and prescribe medications in some states.
  • Physician assistants (PAs): Physician assistants or associates (PAs) are skilled in conducting thorough patient evaluations, which involve assessing a patient’s medical history, performing physical exams, and conducting psychiatric interviews. They can diagnose mental health disorders by applying their expertise to recognize symptoms, evaluate their severity, and collaborate with psychiatrists and psychologists to develop comprehensive treatment plans.

Mental health providers who can’t diagnose

Just as it’s important to know who can diagnose mental health issues, it’s equally important to understand which licensed providers aren’t qualified to do so. Here are some professionals you might encounter who can neither diagnose nor prescribe medications.

  • Life coaches: Despite often working with people to improve their mental well-being, life coaches aren’t licensed mental health providers and can’t diagnose or treat a mental illness.
  • Peer support specialists: These individuals often have personal experience with mental health challenges and offer support and understanding. However, they aren’t qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions.
  • Counselors: While counselors offer valuable emotional and psychological support, they generally don’t have the credentials to diagnose mental health disorders formally. Their expertise is more focused on helping individuals develop coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, and healthier behaviors. 

A general counselor typically provides counseling services for various issues, while an LPC has completed specific education and training requirements to become licensed. LPCs are often more specialized and able to diagnose and treat mental health disorders.

Understanding the roles and limitations of each type of mental health provider can inform your decision-making process, especially when you need to find the right mental health provider for your needs.

Benefits of getting a diagnosis

Obtaining a formal diagnosis from a qualified mental health provider offers several advantages, including.

  • Clarity: Understanding the specific mental health issue you’re facing can provide a sense of clarity and give you direction for how to address your symptoms.
  • Personalized treatment plan: A formal diagnosis lets healthcare providers create a targeted treatment plan, including medication and psychotherapy options, if applicable.
  • Access to resources: Diagnosis often unlocks access to specialized services and support, both medically and within the community.
  • Insurance coverage: Many insurance plans require a formal diagnosis for coverage of mental health services, including therapy sessions.

Disclosure with diagnosis of mental health disorders

Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder is sensitive information that should be handled with care. Licensed healthcare providers follow strict confidentiality guidelines, including HIPAA, and disclosure to third parties generally only happens with your explicit consent. 

However, you may need to share this information when filing insurance claims for coverage, requesting accommodations at work or school, or coordinating care with other healthcare providers.

How to get a diagnosis from a provider

If you’re wondering if a therapist can diagnose a mental health condition and are considering getting a formal diagnosis, the process usually involves.

  • Initial consultation: This is often a comprehensive interview to understand your symptoms and medical history.
  • Diagnostic tests: Depending on the provider and your symptoms, your provider might have you undergo psychological tests or screenings.
  • Diagnosis and treatment plan: After evaluations, your healthcare provider will discuss the diagnosis with you and often present a tailored treatment plan. This plan could include medication if they determine it to be appropriate, depending on whether the provider you’re working with can prescribe medication or send you to a professional who can.

Which mental health provider should you see?

The choice between a therapist and a psychiatrist, or even another qualified mental health professional, should be based on various factors. If you’re dealing with moderate to severe symptoms or believe you may need medication, a psychiatrist might be more appropriate. However, if you’re interested in psychotherapy, a licensed therapist could be a good fit.

Additionally, insurance coverage and out-of-pocket expenses may differ between the types of mental health providers, so this may be another thing for you to consider when deciding on who to see for treatment.

Find a provider on Klarity who can diagnose your mental health disorder

Klarity makes it easier than ever to take control of your mental health. No longer will you have to wait weeks for an appointment or travel long distances to see a specialist to diagnose your mental health condition. 

Find a provider on Klarity today who can diagnose your mental health disorder online or in person.


PyschCentral, “Do Therapists Tell You Your Diagnosis?” Julie Marks, July 25, 2022.

Hers, “Can a Therapist Diagnose You?” Geoffrey Whittaker, Dec. 6, 2022.

Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas, “Therapist vs. Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?”

SohoMD, “Therapist vs. Psychiatrist: What To Know,”

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