The terms “psychologist” and “psychiatrist” are often used interchangeably to describe anyone who provides therapeutic services, but the two professions and the services they provide differ in content and scope. In order to decide which major may be best for you to provide treatment, it is important to understand the differences between these majors.
Psychiatrists are doctors who can prescribe medications. They also prescribe medications while providing psychotherapy, although medical treatment and drug intervention are usually their focus.
Although many psychologists have PhDs, they are not doctors and most cannot prescribe drugs. Instead, they only provide psychotherapy, which may involve cognitive and behavioral interventions.
Education, training and certification
Although psychologists and psychiatrists may have overlapping responsibilities, such as conducting psychotherapy and conducting research, they need to perform different backgrounds.
Requirements for psychologists
Psychologists receive postgraduate training in psychology and pursue a doctorate in clinical or consulting psychology (PhD) or PsyD (PhD in psychology).
Doctoral programs usually take five to seven years to complete, and most states require an additional year or two of internships to obtain a license. Other states require another year or two of supervision practices before granting full licenses.
During their education, students pursuing a PhD or PsyD Ph.D. take the following courses:
- Personality development
- Psychological research methods
- treatment method
- Theory of Mind
- Cognitive Therapy
- Behavior Therapy
“Psychologist” is a protected title
The title of “Psychologist” can only be used by individuals who have completed the required education, training, and state license requirements. Informal titles, such as “counselor” or “therapist”, are also often used, but other mental health care professionals, such as licensed social workers, can also claim these titles.
PhD options tend to be more research-oriented. Those with a doctorate degree in clinical or consulting psychology receive extensive training in research methods and complete thesis.
On the other hand, PsyD degree options tend to be more practical. Students enrolled in this degree program spend more time learning and practicing clinical methods and treatment methods.
Like psychiatrists, psychologists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose people with symptoms of mental illness. They often use psychological tests, such as personality tests, clinical interviews, behavioral assessments, and IQ tests to better understand how their clients operate.
Requirements for psychiatrists
A psychiatrist is a doctor who has received specialized training in the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness. In order to become a psychiatrist, students must first obtain an undergraduate degree before entering medical school and earning a doctorate in medicine.
After completing medical training, they also completed an additional four years of mental health residency training. This type of resident usually involves working in the psychiatric department of the hospital. They also work with a variety of patients, from children to adults, who may have behavioral problems, emotional difficulties, or some kind of mental illness.
During the internship, psychiatry professionals will receive training and practice on how to diagnose and treat different mental illnesses, such as:
Psychiatrists have received training in different methods of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a popular treatment method that has been proven to be highly effective in the treatment of various mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, stress and anger problems.
Some studies have shown that, in some cases, combining CBT and drugs may be more effective than using drugs alone.
Psychiatrists will also receive additional training in specific areas of interest, such as geriatric psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, addiction, and other areas. Then, some people may choose to further specialize by completing scholarships in areas such as neuropsychiatry, geriatrics, adolescent psychiatry, or psychopharmacology.
The second important difference between these two professions is that psychiatrists can prescribe medication, while in most states, psychologists cannot. However, recently there has been a push to grant prescription rights to psychologists.
Some states (such as New Mexico and Louisiana) now grant prescribing privileges to medical psychologists with a postdoctoral degree or equivalent in clinical psychopharmacology.
Kevin McGuinness, Chairman of the Mental Health Function Advisory Group of the Commissioned Corps, explained, “For those interested in pursuing a career in psychology, it’s important to know that certain federal employees and military commissioned officers (Army, Air Force, Public Health) are in a state. Services that are licensed as medical psychologists, the Navy, etc.) can prescribe them in any other state assigned to them by the federal government.”
Do they provide different treatments?
Although these two professions are completely different, both psychologists and psychiatrists play an important role in mental health treatment. Many times, they cooperate with each other to provide individuals with the best treatment.
For example, patients may first consult their primary care physician about the psychological symptoms they are experiencing. Then, their doctor may refer them to a psychologist for further evaluation. The psychologist may observe, evaluate, and diagnose patients before referring them to a psychiatrist who can prescribe and monitor medications.
Psychologists and psychiatrists can work together, psychologists provide behavioral interventions, and psychiatrists provide or adjust medications to best address the patient’s symptoms. The type of method required usually depends on the severity of the symptoms and the needs and wishes of the patient.
Studies have shown that people have different preferences for receiving psychotherapy alone or in combination with drugs. These preferences affect the professionals they see.
Cost may also be a factor; some studies have found that combination treatments may also be more cost-effective for patients.
Choose your career path
If you are considering a career as a therapist, you need to determine which career path is best for you. Options you might consider include:
- Psychologist: If you are interested in psychotherapy, psychological testing, and research, this may be a good choice.
- Psychiatrist: If you are interested in medicine and want to be able to prescribe drugs for your patients, this may be a good choice.
- Social worker or consultant: If you want to help others but don’t want to spend five to eight years in graduate school, a career in another human service field (such as social work or consulting) may be a good choice. Based on training and experience, these professionals are also qualified to provide mental health services. Social work and consulting usually require two to three years of postgraduate study.
- Psychiatric nursing: Psychiatric nursing is another good career choice for students interested in medicine. Senior psychiatric nurses have a master’s degree in psychiatry-mental health care or higher and are able to assess patients, diagnose diseases, provide psychotherapy and prescribe medications.
The life of a psychologist or psychiatrist
Work/life balance and working environment are other factors that students should consider when choosing a career as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Medical schools and graduate schools are rigorous and require a lot of time, resources, and energy.
Resident physicians can be very tiring, and if students choose to enter the field of psychiatry, they should feel comfortable working in a medical environment. After graduation, psychiatrists who choose to work in the hospital may need to work long hours or be on call.
Psychiatrists may work in hospitals, but they may also choose to work in community mental health centers, academic institutions, or private clinics. Those who choose to work in a private clinic may find that they have more control over their schedule and time.
Psychologists are also facing similar requirements. Some psychologists may choose to work in a hospital environment, while other psychologists can be found in mental health clinics, government agencies, academic settings, and private clinics.
Professionals in this field may find that they need to work at night and on weekends in order to serve clients who work during typical working hours. Like psychiatrists, psychologists working in the field of mental health sometimes need to be on standby or able to respond to emergencies.
According to the “Occupation Outlook Handbook” issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment prospects of psychologists and psychiatrists are expected to grow in the next ten years.
It is estimated that between 2019 and 2029, the demand for psychiatrists will grow at a rate of 12%, adding approximately 3,300 jobs. It is estimated that between 2019 and 2029, the demand for psychologists will grow at a low rate of 3%, thereby adding approximately 5,700 jobs.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2020, the median annual salary for psychologists is $82,180. The median annual salary of psychiatrists in May 2020 is much higher, at $217,100.
Very good sentence
Psychologists and psychiatrists represent unique professional names, but both play a key role in the field of mental health. The main difference between psychologists and psychiatrists comes down to educational background and prescribing power, but both have important goals to help patients feel better.
No one is “better” than the other, but the patient’s needs and specific symptoms may play a role in which type of professional is best suited to assist with treatment.