The job descriptions for psychologists and psychiatrists are frequently confused, but the key difference lies in medical authority.
Psychiatrists practice as medical doctors and use their clinical experience to treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders using medication and psychotherapy. Psychology, a discipline with origins in philosophy, concerns the mind and human behaviors. While they treat emotional and social abnormalities, most psychologists cannot prescribe medications. In fact, they often work in tandem with psychiatrists to refer patients for prescriptions.
The clinical training and education also differ between psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychology students study cognition and human behavior, whereas psychiatry students focus on biology and medicine. Psychologists earn a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.). Psychiatrists hold a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
Other differences, such as salary and job prospects, further separate the two occupations.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to see a psychiatrist or psychologist?
Deciding whether to seek help from a psychiatrist or a psychologist depends on the person. People turn to psychologists when they have substance abuse issues, depression, or stress as the result of job loss or a death in the family. Patients seek the help of psychiatrists when they need medical treatment and medication for mental health disorders.
Can a psychiatrist or psychologist prescribe medicine?
As medical doctors, psychiatrists administer talk therapy and prescribe medication to their patients. This is the major difference between psychiatry and psychology. However, psychologists can gain additional clinical training in subjects like psychopharmacology to prescribe medications in five states, including Illinois, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
Do I see a psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety?
Both psychologists and psychiatrists can treat patients for anxiety disorders. They use cognitive therapy and stress management techniques to help people take control of anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, phobias, and agoraphobia. Treatment often requires antidepressants, which only a psychiatrist can prescribe. Patients with chronic disorders may opt to see a psychiatrist.
Can a psychologist become a psychiatrist?
Yes. They would need to attend medical school and complete clinical training, including residency of about 4-5 years to meet the requirements. Most graduates who hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology do not pursue a psychiatry degree. However, it is possible.
Are all psychiatrists therapists?
Therapists and psychiatrists administer therapy techniques to help their clients work through hardships. These mental health professionals practice psychotherapy one-on-one or in group sessions. However, while psychiatrists administer therapy, their education trains them to go beyond the offerings of therapists. Therapists, depending on the field, can work with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. Psychiatrists hold a medical degree.
What are the Differences Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists?
Psychologists and psychiatrists have different treatment methods, work settings, and responsibilities.
People experiencing short-term and chronic conditions, such as panic attacks, depression, and stress commonly see a psychologist. Those suffering from substance abuse or coping with chronic illnesses also seek help from psychologists. During treatment, the psychologist evaluates a person and conducts tests and assessments to determine the best treatment methods. In certain states where psychologists can prescribe medication, they may treat a wider range of cases usually handled by psychiatrists. They see patients on the short-term or for years using cognitive behavior therapy techniques.
Psychiatrists help patients with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They use various techniques, including psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and medications to treat mild to severe psychological problems. People who need treatment for paranoia, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia visit psychiatrists who work in hospitals, psychiatric institutions, or private practice.
Psychologists work in collaboration with other healthcare professionals in hospitals and clinics, private practice, colleges, and rehabilitation centers.
Psychologists and psychiatrists often team up to help patients. Therapists and psychologists may refer a person to a psychiatrist to get medications, such as mood stabilizers, sedatives, antipsychotics, or antidepressants.
Differences in Education and Training
Becoming a psychologist requires a shorter, albeit just as rigorous, educational journey than a psychiatrist. A doctoral degree — including a Ph.D., Psy.D., or doctor of education — gives psychologists the training needed to practice. Certain counseling positions may accept candidates who only hold a master’s degree, but psychologists need a doctorate.
Earning a doctorate takes 4-6 years, not including the required postgraduate residency. Future psychologists complete a residency under the supervision of a licensed professional for about 1-2 years. A doctoral degree meets most state requirements to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) or Psychopharmacology Examination for Psychologists.
Psychiatrists renew their licenses by taking continuing education courses. After four years of medical school, future psychiatrists complete about four years of residency in psychiatry. Many work in a specialty area, such as adolescent and child psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, or neuropsychiatry. Before psychiatrists can practice, they need a valid license and certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The multi-step U.S. Medical Licensing Examination for psychiatrists begins in medical school.
Psychiatrists must hold a valid license for the state in which they practice, and when providing remote psychiatry through video or phone, they must hold licensure in the state in which their patient lives.
Deciding Between a Career in Psychology or Psychiatry
Choosing between psychology vs. psychiatry comes down to an individual’s preferred method of counseling. Psychiatrists use their medical knowledge to treat patients, whereas psychologists primarily use psychotherapy techniques to address abnormal human behaviors. Scientific findings and counseling serve as important tools for both professions. These two professionals often cross paths, especially when their patients need referrals for medications.
The field of psychology offers individuals the opportunity to work in research to study the behaviors of humans and animals. Research psychologists conduct studies in schools and workplaces. Psychology also offers the opportunity to focus on arts, sports, education, or engineering.
In medical school, prospective psychiatrists take clerkships where they study psychiatry and other medical specialities. Additional training can prepare psychiatrists for specialties in forensic psychology, addiction psychiatry, or geriatric psychiatry.
For more clarification about the difference between psychology and psychiatry, visit this page.
Employment, Job Outlook, and Salary Differences Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists
The fields of psychology and psychiatry should see employment increases within the next 10 years, although exact vacancies vary by industry and job. Employment for psychiatrists should grow by 12% from 2019-29 as employers add 3,300 more jobs. BLS projects a 3% employment growth rate for psychologists, and employers should add 5,700 jobs, including clinical and school psychologists and industrial-organizational psychologists.
Another marked difference between psychology vs. psychiatry is pay. Psychologists earn a median annual salary of $80,370 and psychiatrists get a median salary of $220,430 a year. Salaries vary depending on where a psychologist or a psychiatrist works.
Psychologists who work in government, the top-paying industry for this profession, make $96,870 a year, and those in hospitals earn $88,480 annually. As they gain experience, pay increases with the top 10% of psychologists who earn $132,070.
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