Psychiatrist Vs. Psychologist: What’s the difference?!

With the ever-increasing need for therapists in the United States given the rate of suicide (up one-third since 1999), depression and other mental health disorders, the world needs more students studying in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. If you are interested in pursuing this area of study, you’ll need to figure out which type of doctor you want to be. While similar in nature with a tendency to overlap, there are some vast differences between psychologists and psychiatrists.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist holds a medical degree. They are trained to help people with issues regarding their mental health, behavioral issues, and emotional well-being. A psychiatrist will talk to you about your problems and help you manage issues however big or small. In addition to psychotherapy, a psychiatrist has the ability to prescribe medication. Because a psychiatrist is considered a medical doctor, they are familiar with the science of the body and the brain. They can work with you to make sure your issues aren’t being caused by a different medical problem before they zero in on prescribing your medications and treatment plans for depression or other mental health issues.

Course of Study

Students studying psychiatry will have to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in a science or pre-med field. According to The Association of American Medical Colleges, many med schools will prefer that you complete your undergraduate degree in fields such as chemistry, physics, biology, humanities, or liberal arts (www.aamc.org). While in your undergrad program, you should try to volunteer in the medical field to help your admittance into med school, which is the next step.

You will need to attend med school for four years to earn your degree to practice medicine. When applying to a med school, you will be required to take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Medical schools will take into consideration more than just your MCAT test scores and your Bachelor’s degree. They will also look at your extracurriculars and volunteer work, letters of recommendation, as well as your experience and character (which can shine through your recommendation letters and the admissions process). You will start learning hands-on experience in a clinical setting during your final two years of the program.

After completing your medical degree, you will then be required to participate in a residency (usually at a hospital or other medical clinic) for about four years. This will require you to help treat a number of patients with various issues while under the supervision of a licensed and experienced doctor, and it will also offer a salary. Residencies are very competitive! Your performance in medical school will greatly affect your chances of being accepted into a residency program.

When your residency is complete, your final step is to become a licensed medical doctor in the state in which you will practicing medicine. You can then become board-certified in general psychiatry or you may choose a sub-specialty such as addiction, adolescence, etc.

Career Options

Psychiatrists can work in hospitals, private practices, nursing homes, prisons, in government and military settings, schools, rehabilitation centers, and many other places. The annual wage for a psychiatrist is about $164,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you are willing to put in the work (and it’s a LOT of work and many years and hours) and want to become a medical doctor of psychiatry, then this is the course of study for you.

Psychologist

Psychologists are not medical doctors. They can use psychological tests to diagnose, but they are not permitted to prescribe medicine. Psychologists are trained to focus on a patient’s mind and emotions, rather than the body as a whole (which is what a Psychiatrist does). Psychologists will focus mainly on talk-therapy with their patients but may work hand-in-hand with a psychiatrist if a patient requires more help or medical attention for their diagnoses. Psychologists can help to treat trauma, stress, mental illness, personality disorders, phobias, and even learning disabilities.

Course of Study

To become a psychologist, you will need to obtain either a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). A Ph.D. is research-based (thorough field of study complete with a dissertation), and a Psy.D. is clinical and studies the aspects of psychosocial therapy. First, you will need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. As with the course of study for Psychiatry, it is recommended that you do some volunteer work in the field you are interested in. Hands-on experience will help you in your career after college.

After your undergraduate studies are complete, it’s time to enter into a graduate program to obtain your Masters. You will need to decide which field you would like to enter: clinical or counseling. Just like when applying to med schools, graduate schools are competitive and will look at not only your transcripts and your test scores (you will take the GRE- Graduate Record Exam- before applying to grad school), but your experience in the field as well. This program should take about 2-4 years to complete.

Before moving on to obtaining your license, you will have to complete an internship as well. Remember: it's competitive! Put in the research and volunteer-study while you’re in your undergraduate program to ensure success at this level! An internship can last 1-2 years, depending on your sub-specialty.

Moving on, you will then apply for postdoctoral supervision. According to apa.org, “Practitioners get the supervised hours they need for licensure, specialize in a particular area, or build a client base, and establish their professional identities.” The number of hours, as well as the type of hours you will need for your license, depends on the state you are in.

Finally, to obtain your license, you will have to pass the EPPP (Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology).

Career Options

As with psychiatry, as a Psychologist you will have many career options available to you: private practice, government and military agencies, hospitals and clinics, nursing homes, rehab centers, schools, social service organizations, and more! The annual median salary for Psychologists, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, is $81,000.

While obtaining and degree and a license to be a practicing psychologist requires just as much hard work and time as a psychiatrist, the level of a study and the amount of time maybe a little less. The salary, as you can see, is also less, but still a decent amount.

The need for psychologists and psychiatrists in the United States alone is never going to change. We NEED students like you to enter these fields to help Americans with a plethora of issues that they just can’t do on their own.


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