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What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Mental health professionals are hard working and empathetic individuals who are making mental health services a top priority for both them and their clients. Psychiatrists and Psychologists are likely the first career titles you think of when it comes to mental health care. But how do they differ? And what do they really do in their respective mental health fields?

How are Psychiatrists and Psychologists Different?

While psychologists and psychiatrists both evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients with mental illnesses, the manner in which they do so, and the method in which they are trained varies greatly. In both instances, psychologists and psychiatrists may also elect to specialize in specific populations, including children, the elderly, or those diagnosed with severe mental illnesses including Bi-Polar disorders I or II, or Schizophrenia.

One of the key differences between psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists prescribe medications for mental disorders and mental illnesses as a form of mental health treatment. Psychologists, on the other hand, use talk therapy, behavioral therapy, and more as psychological treatments for mental and emotional disorders.

The Road To Becoming a Psychologist

Any mental health professional has worked hard in college and likely graduate school to bring them to this point in their career. Earning the right to call yourself a psychologist and begin to treat patients with mental illness or other mental conditions first requires that you earn an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. While many applicants to psychology graduate programs will in turn pursue undergraduate degrees in psychology, the sky is truly the limit in regards to your undergraduate education. Some graduate programs do specify prerequisite coursework depending on their field of practice though. A clinical psychology program may want applicants to have a background in abnormal psychology, or counseling psychology, while a child psychology program may place more emphasis on coursework in childhood development.

There are several subfields in psychology that you can pursue, and each subfield may require slightly different prerequisites for admission. After earning an undergraduate degree, you will have the choice to first attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree in psychology, or attempt to apply directly into a doctoral psychology program. Master’s programs may take in larger class sizes, meaning that they can be easier to attain in comparison to doctoral programs, but having a masters alone will not allow you to practice as a psychologist. Pursuing a doctorate degree will take about four years to complete, regardless of if you earn a master’s or if you are accepted immediately after your undergraduate coursework.

As a psychologist, your focus will primarily be on testing, and administering a diagnosis for potential mental illnesses and behavioral disorders that a patient may display. While some psychologists work hard at treating mental illness, these functions are typically left to master’s level counselors and therapists. These mental health conditions may include bipolar disorder, severe depression, mood disorders, and other serious mental health conditions.

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Non-clinical areas of psychology such as experimental or industrial psychology will utilize their research experience and methodology to apply psychological constructs to real-world applications, and are often heavily utilized in business and industry.

The Road To Becoming a Psychiatrist

Similarly to how psychologists work hard to become mental health professionals, psychiatrists study for many years to earn a medical degree so that they can treat mental illnesses and help people. Psychiatrists are medical doctors that are so important in the world of mental health care.

Although psychiatry also deals with issues pertaining to substance abuse, mental health and mental illness, psychiatry itself is a subset of the medical field. Pursuing a career in psychiatry will initially have you following a similar educational path as those pursuing any other career in medicine because of their ability to prescribe medication and more clinical work. While you still have some freedom in the choice of undergraduate major that you will pursue, many psychiatry students will lean toward either psychology or biology, due to the focus on biology-based prerequisite courses needed for medical school admissions. While psychiatrists do occasionally engage in talk therapy, they are medical doctors first and foremost, and primarily engage in diagnosing mental health disorders and prescribing the appropriate psycho-pharmacological treatments and medication management to alleviate a patient’s reported psychiatric symptoms.

Career & Salary Expectations for a Psychologist

Psychologists and Psychologists often work in tandem and are frequently employed in hospitals, clinics, and other specialty treatment centers. A stark difference between the two professions is compensation. In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Psychiatrists Earned a mean annual salary of $200,220, while Clinical Psychologists Earned a mean average salary of $76,040 in 2015. While their workplace environments are very similar, their career duties and salaries vastly differ.

The Differences Between Psychiatrists and Psychologists In Summary…

When it comes to emotional health, these two mental health professionals have got you covered. However, as discussed, there are stark differences in their educational paths, their career duties, and their salaries.

The primary differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist arise both from the educational path that you will take to pursue either profession, and how you choose to treat patients with mental illnesses and disorders. Psychologists spend years studying the human psyche, and focus on both talk therapy techniques and diagnosing skills, while psychiatrists are medical doctors who have chosen to focus their practice on mental and substance disorders.

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