Psychiatrist. Psychologist. For many people, these two words are interchangeable. Both deal with the mind, both perform research and both offer therapy to those in need. So what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? One major item: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and a psychologist is not. Although these two professions share many similarities, their training ultimately results in big differences in their daily work environment.
Both psychiatrists and psychologists are highly educated. To become a psychologist, you must complete your undergraduate degree and then earn a master’s in psychology or counseling. If you want to be a counselor, your graduate studies will involve long hours learning theory and longer hours interning as a counselor-in-training. To lead your own research projects, you will need to spend an additional five to seven years earning a doctorate in psychology. These years will be spent working full-time at a university where you’ll work on your adviser’s projects, run your own experiments and teach undergraduate students.
The road to psychiatry is equally challenging. You must also earn an undergraduate degree, but your next stop is medical school. There, you’ll spend four years learning the intricacies of the human body, including the brain. If you do well, you can enter a residency in psychiatry, where you’ll spend four years. During this time, you’ll work at least 80 hours a week, including overnight shifts, while you learn how to diagnose and treat patients. At the end of your residency, you’ll need to pass a full-day exam to become licensed as a psychiatrist. For both professions, you’ll have to take continuing education courses to keep your knowledge up-to-date.
Once you complete your training, you can begin practicing in your chosen field. You might open your own office or join an existing practice. As a psychologist, you’ll work directly with patients to teach them mentally healthy behavior. You might explore traumatic events, offer coping strategies or help your patients built their self-esteem. However, if a client needs medical intervention, you’ll refer them to a psychiatrist. As a psychiatrist, you might choose to offer talk therapy to patients, but most psychiatrists concentrate on medical interventions. You’ll work with patients to find neurological medicines that provide relief for their symptoms with minimal side effects. You may work at a hospital or with a group of psychologists who send patients to you for help.
If you want to do more than work with patients, you can work in research as a psychologist or psychiatrist. A psychologist will study how the mind works or apply their education to broad social issues, such as this recent discussion of nationalism. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, will focus on medical research such as testing new drugs or better protocols for existing medicine.
Psychologist and psychiatrists have different educational paths and jobs. However, both professions are dedicated to increasing humanity’s knowledge and improving patients’ lives, and both jobs offer career stability, great pay and a chance to make the world a better place.