Are Psychologists and Psychiatrists Different?

psychiatrist vs psychologist

There are many differences between psychologists and psychiatrists that you should take the time to learn if you are planning to work in psychotherapy. While many people use these terms interchangeably, the route that you take while you are in school and the methods of treatment used by psychologists and psychiatrists can be very different. Understanding the differences between the two professionals who diagnose mental and emotional problems and treat patients is very important. Here is your guide to distinguishing between psychology and psychiatry so that you enroll in the right program and choose the career that will be the best fit.

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Educational Differences Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists

The difference between the two career options actually starts in school. While psychologists and psychiatrists can take the same accredited Bachelor’s degree programs, the background required after earning a Bachelor’s will differ. Psychiatrists earn a degree in medicine and a psychologist will earn a doctoral-level degree that focuses on psychology.

It is common for someone pursuing a career as a psychologist to enroll in a Doctor of Psychology or a Doctor of Philosophy clinical or counseling program. Upon completion of the PhD program, the student will complete a 1 to 2 year internship under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. A psychiatrist takes medical school to learn how to assess, diagnose and treat mental illness. Upon completion of medical school, the psychiatrist will then have to complete a 4 year residency before they can begin practicing. Psychiatrists may also have to complete additional specialized training to treat a specific group of patients.

Professional Differences in Between Each Medical Professional

The differences do not end in education. While a psychologist and a psychiatrist are both trained to assess patients with mental illness, their approaches to treatment are very different. Psychologists are specialists in psychology and use specific methods of psychotherapy to treat patients suffering from a variety of illnesses. While a psychiatrists may also use some psychotherapy methods during the treatment process, they are doctors of medicine. This means that they have the option to prescribe medications to their patients to assist with treatment.┬áMore and more states are giving the power to prescribe to psychologists who complete post-doctoral master’s degree majoring in clinical psychopharmacology.

Which is Better?

You may be wondering which career path is best for you, and the answer to the question depends on what you would like to do. For individuals who are interested in prescribing medications and attending medical school, psychiatry could be the best choice. If you would prefer to work with patients, administer psychological tests and use psychotherapy methods to treat patients, you may want to study psychology. You must also consider how much time you are willing to invest going to school and earning your professional license.


As you can see, there are major differences between each profession. If you are mapping out your career as an advanced student, consider the differences and all of the important factors. If you would like to study medicine and spend more time in school, psychiatry could be your calling. Understanding the differences between psychologists and psychiatrists will help guide you in making a decision.

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