Getting the Details Right in Your Novel: Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

Although both professions study and treat people with psychological and behavioral issues, there are big distinctions between psychologists and psychiatrists. Fortunately, you don’t need to feign emotional trauma and lie on a couch for hours to get it right in your work. (And if your professional falls in a horror or paranormal story, you’ll want to check out this collection of resources at a highly discounted price.) Without further ado, here’s a breakdown.


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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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2 thoughts on “Getting the Details Right in Your Novel: Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

  1. Dr. Shay

    I read your column religiously and learn much from it. However, as a clinical psychologist, I must contradict your assertion that psychologists deal with individuals with “less severe issues (mild depression, anger, stress).” while psychiatrists see patients with “more severe mental ailments.” As you correctly stated, psychiatrists prescribe and manage medication. Psychologists are the practitioners who work weekly with patients to optimize their functioning in the community. In my 20+ years of work, I have had only a handful of the “worried well” that you describe in your column, and I don’t think I’m an exception. I’ve worked with murderers, child molesters, and individuals with schizophrenia, severe PTSD, multiple personality, etc. After reading a novel with another distorted depiction of a psychotic disorder, I created to discuss possible origins of mental illness and to answer authors’ questions about how to portray it accurately. Authors can post a comment on the site or write me at

    Thanks again for your articles. I love your sense of humor and the information you provide. This is the only one I’ve ever disagreed with, and I will continue to read, and re-write and revise as I learn form your column.

    D. Shay Gable


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