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The Entities of Psychologist and Psychiatrist: How Are They Different?

Submitted by on March 17, 2017 – 3:37 PM

psychology-vs-psychiatryA psychologist and a psychiatrist are often confused as having the same designation. While both study the brain, emotions, feelings and thoughts, there is a distinct separation between the two fields of study. The primary differences between them mainly encompass the educational requirements, the specific training, practice and salary.


If your career choice is to become a psychologist, you would begin your education with an undergraduate major in psychology. After earning either a Bachelor of Science in psychology or a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, you would then need to attend a graduate program in order to earn a master’s degree followed by a doctorate degree in psychology. Following undergraduate classes, an additional five to seven years are required for earning a doctorate degree.


Most states require a two-year internship or two years of supervised practice before they deem you eligible for licensing. While earning a degree, you can also choose to specialize in a particular field of psychology, which may require additional class time and/or additional state exams for licensure. Furthermore, a psychologist may also practice as a psychoanalyst, given that they undergo additional training to become an expert in a non-medication mental health treatment technique known as psychoanalysis.


On the other hand, becoming a psychiatrist requires you to go to medical school. After completing an undergraduate degree in science, you would then attend a graduate program to complete your medical degree. Following medical school, you would complete four years of residency, during which your training would be focused on psychiatry. The residency is typically completed in the psychiatric unit of a hospital.


There are a number of specializations you can choose to practice in; for example, general psychiatry, child psychiatry, psychoanalysis, forensic psychiatry, and a host of other options. Following an internship and residency, you will be required to pass a state exam in order to become a licensed medical doctor. You may also be required to sit for an additional exam in order to become a licensed psychiatrist.


In spite of differences between the two fields, psychiatrists and psychologists often work together in the treatment of patients. A psychologist is unable to write prescriptions but may recommend a patient to be seen by a fellow psychiatrist in order to receive medication. Vice versa for psychiatrists, they often refer patients to fellow psychotherapists and psychologists to receive counseling and mental health therapy. A psychiatrist is concerned with their patient’s well-being; however, their focus is primarily towards disorders associated with chemical imbalance, whereas a psychologist’s primary focus is on the patient’s thoughts, feelings and general mental health.


Both a psychologist and a psychiatrist are essentially doctors — however, someone practicing psychology has earned a doctorate degree which can be either a PhD or a PsyD, whereas someone practicing psychiatry is a medical doctor. Both career choices require several years of commitment to studies and both are rewarding careers that offer a variety of sub-fields in which you can specialize.


The career outlook for both positions has been and will continue to be fruitful and expansive. The salaries vary depending on the field of psychiatry or psychology you choose to specialize in. However, a psychiatrist typically earns a larger yearly income than a psychologist due to the medical degree. Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who graduate from medical school, pass through a year of medical internship and subsequently three years of residency in the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders.


Psychologists have a doctoral degree in an area of psychology, i.e. the study of the mind and human behavior. Ergo, they are not medical doctors. A psychologist can have a PhD in philosophy or a PhD in clinical or counseling psychology. Typically, they experience 1-2 years of internship. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists are also trained in giving psychological tests (such as IQ tests or personality tests).


Because of their medical training, psychiatrists can prescribe medication — probably the most commonly known distinction between the two fields. However, a few states do allow psychologists to prescribe a limited number of psychiatric medications if they have taken a course in psychopharmacology.


The word ‘psychology’ comes from the Greek word ‘psyche,’ meaning ‘breathe, spirit, soul’ and the Greek word ‘logia,’ meaning the study of something. According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, psychology is; “The profession (clinical psychology), scholarly discipline (academic psychology), and science (research psychology) concerned with the behavior of humans and animals, and related mental and physiologic processes.” Although psychology may also include the study of the mind and behavior of animals, in this article psychology refers only to humans.



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