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Which Do I Need: Psychologist or Psychiatrist?

Psychologist office Mont Kiara

Nowadays there are many confusing terms for mental health professionals: psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, counsellors and even coaches. The largest obstacle people face is around whether they should see a psychologist or psychiatrist. Luckily, there are clear differences between the two and I am here to tell you all about them.

What is a Psychiatrist?

A Psychiatrist in Malaysia, has the training of a medical doctor, with a medical degree from a recognised institution. Following medical training, a psychiatrist will receive specialised training in psychiatry. Look for the "MD" in a psychiatrist's credentials to ensure you are consulting the right specialist.

The role of a psychiatrist is to assess your symptoms and provide medication to treat those symptoms. Although they sometimes do, a psychiatrist does not take part in therapy. Sessions are usually between 20-30 minutes long, apart from the initial consultation which may take an hour. You can expect to see a psychiatrist every few months to check on symptom relief and side effects.

You do not need a referral to see a psychiatrist at a private clinic, however, you will need to ask your GP for a referral to a psychiatrist at a public hospital. In private clinics, prices range between 200-500 RM per session, not including any medication prescribed.

Therapist in KL, Psychologist in KL, Psychiatrist in KL
Psychologist in KL

What is a Psychologist?

In most countries, a Psychologist holds a doctorate degree that includes a Masters degree and 5-7 years of education followed by clinical fellowships. In order to become a Psychologist, your doctorate must be a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D) or a Doctorate in Philosophy (Ph.D). For the purposes of seeing clients, both degrees are the same.

After training, a Psychologist sits for an exam and completes a certain amount of supervised clinical hours before earning the title psychologist. For example, in the United States, a Psychologist must pass the EPPP (Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology) and complete 3200 hours of supervised clinical hours (1- APA). These hours and training are focused solely on mental health education versus general medical practice as a psychiatrist's initial training is.

What is important to remember is that Malaysia does not yet have strict rules governing the education and experience of Psychologists. In fact, contrary to many other countries, Malaysia ONLY requires a Masters degree and no form of licensing exam in order to be considered a Psychologist.

How Long is Therapy with a Psychologist?

Psychologists will typically meet with you for 50 minutes and prices range from RM200-500 per session. The average length of treatment by a Psychologist is 3 months or 12 sessions. Sessions usually occur weekly or once every other week. I usually recommend to my clients that meetings occur weekly initially and then spread out out to every other week as the client gains some relief. That being said, therapy can be as short as one session to as long as years at a time. The deciding factor, are the severity of presenting concerns, the amount of distress the client feels and the treatment plan created between yourself and your therapist. Some Psychologists, as well as myself, offer treatment packages to lower the cost of therapy.

So, Do I Choose a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist?

I recommend starting with a Psychologist and discussing your options. You want to get a good idea of the overall picture of your well being and understand your symptoms within that context. Your well being is impacted by many factors like recent transitions, you job, relationships, finances, family dynamics etc.

Psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression usually have a biological cause (helped by medication) and environmental causes (not helped by medication). Seeing a Psychologist helps you get to the root of your issues and develop healthy coping skills, boundaries and habits. Often a Psychologist will recommend medication in conjunction with therapy or you can make that choice for yourself. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to ask questions and take an active role in decision making around your health.

If you are experiencing distress or want to improve your well being, please reach out to me to book a session over Zoom or in person. I can be reached by WhatsApp at +60125472408 or at I am a Clinical Psychologist with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology who sees both individuals and couples in Mont Kiara, KL, Malaysia.


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Nicole Aasmundsen
Nicole Aasmundsen
Aug 15, 2021

Super informative!! It’s hard to find information like this without going to a therapist in the first place. It also raises awareness amongst other individuals whether they’re seeking therapy or not. A huge first step in getting yourself help in times like this!


Cheska J
Cheska J
Aug 14, 2021

Thank you for this, I was a bit confused with the terms and admittedly probably mixed them up some point in time! I see how going to a psychologist first is helpful. But how do we vet the psychologists? US has that exam but since you mentioned Malaysia is not that strict, do you have any tips so we know we are indeed consulting with a trained professional? I understand psychiatrists will have an MD attached to their name so that must be easier to look into.


Very informative 👍

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