What are the Differences Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists?

Difference Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists

The roles of psychologists and psychiatrists are often confused with each other, and many people use these terms interchangeably. While both professionals study the brain, emotions, feelings, and thoughts, psychiatry focuses on the medical treatment of the mind, and psychology is concerned with the overall scientific study of the mind. Learn about the different education and licensing requirements for psychologists vs. psychiatrists, as well as the unique roles these professionals play in patient care.

Psychiatrist Versus Psychologist

Psychiatrist Definition

Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders and their diagnosis, management, and prevention. Psychiatrists diagnose, treat, and help prevent disorders of the mind. Psychiatrists use a mix of treatment options, including medications and psychotherapy.

Psychologist Definition

Psychology is the study of the human mind and how it affects behavior, including underlying feelings and motivations, as well as how people act, react, and interact. Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and human behavior. They collect information, conduct scientific studies, and provide psychotherapy.

Main Similarities

Psychiatry and psychology schooling both lead to similar career paths. As either a psychologist or psychiatrist, you will be trained to:

  • Study the human mind
  • Practice psychotherapy
  • Perform research

Key Differences

  1. Psychiatrists and psychologists have different education and licensing requirements.
  2. Psychiatrists are medical doctors and psychologists are not.
  3. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, and psychologists cannot.
  4. Due to their medical credentials, increasingly, psychiatrists spend more time on “medical management” of patients rather than psychotherapy.
  5. Psychiatrists typically earn more than psychologists.

Licensing Requirement Differences

Psychologist Licensing Requirements

In order to practice as a psychologist in most states, you must obtain a license or certification. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctoral degree in psychology, an internship, one to two years of professional experience, and to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology in order to obtain a license.

Psychiatrist Licensing Requirements

Psychiatrists must graduate from medical school, complete a four-year residency, and pass a standardized national licensure exam in order to become a medical doctor. Board certification is not required for psychiatrists, but it may increase employment opportunities.

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist Education Differences

Psychologist Education Path

Psychologists typically begin their education by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After that, they need to earn a master’s degree and then a doctoral degree in psychology. Following a bachelor’s degree program, it takes an additional five to seven years to earn a PhD in psychology.

Psychology Courses

Courses that psychology students may be required to take include the following:

  • Introduction to psychology
  • Statistics for psychology
  • Personality psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Lifespan development
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • Child development
  • Adolescent development

Psychiatrist Education Path

Aspiring psychiatrists must earn a bachelor’s degree in science and then go to medical school. Medical students typically spend the first two years in classrooms and laboratories, taking courses in subjects like pharmacology, biochemistry, anatomy, psychology, and medical ethics. In the last two years of medical school, students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in clinics and hospitals. After medical school, students will begin their four-year psychiatry residency, typically in a hospital’s psychiatric unit.

Psychiatry Courses

In medical school, psychiatrists gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas, including psychiatry, surgery, family practice, and obstetrics and gynecology. Specific psychiatry-related courses that medical students may take include the following:

  • Psychopharmacology
  • Clinical neuroscience
  • Clinical psychology
  • Evidence-based psychiatry
  • Biostatistics
  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Epidemiology
  • Psychotherapy

Career Outcomes for Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists

Career Similarities

Both psychiatrists and psychologists can pursue careers in psychotherapy or research. They may choose to treat patients through their own private practice or work in a variety of clinical and mental health settings.

Psychology Specialty Areas

Specialty areas of psychology that one can pursue include couples and family therapy, psychoanalysis, rehabilitation, and clinical health, among others.

Psychiatry Specialty Areas

Specializations in psychiatry that you can choose from include general psychiatry, child psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry.

Salary Differences

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned a median annual salary of $67,760 in 2013. Psychiatrists earned a significantly higher salary of $178,950.

Choosing Between a Psychiatry and Psychology Career

The main difference between psychologists and psychiatrists is that the latter have the ability to prescribe medications and earn a significantly higher salary owing to their medical degree. Whether you want to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, you must make a commitment to study for several years. Both fields are rewarding and there are many subspecialties to choose from. If you would like to improve people’s quality of life by diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, pursuing a career as a psychologist or psychiatrist may be right for you.