It is quite common for people to consider the terms “psychiatrists” and “psychologists” as the same. However, there are significant points of differences between the two, especially when the professions and the services that they provide are taken into consideration.
One of the major differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist is their educational background. A psychologist requires at least a doctoral degree in psychology, while a psychiatrist must have a degree in medicine. There are also other aspects that differentiate the professions from each other.
Psychologists must undergo graduate training in psychology and earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in counseling or clinical psychology. They have to spend five to seven years to complete their doctorate program, plus one to two years of internship to secure a license, as required by most states. Some states even require one to two more years of supervised practice to gain a full license.
Those who have completed the educational, training, and state licensure requirements stated above can use the title “psychologist.” They may also be called informally as “therapist” or “counselor,” also these same titles are also used by social workers and other mental health care professionals.
On the other hand, psychiatrists are doctors who received training in assessing, diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illnesses. Aspiring psychiatrists have to complete an undergraduate degree program to qualify for acceptance into medical school and get a medical degree (MD). Once they complete medical training, they have to undergo residency training in mental health, which lasts for four years. Some also undergo additional training in a subspecialty area, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, addiction, and more.
Another major difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that a psychiatrist is authorized to prescribe medications, while psychologists cannot. However, there are recent lobbying efforts for psychologists to be able to prescribe medications as well. Louisiana and New Mexico are just two of the states in the US that allow medical psychologists with a post-doctoral master’s degree or a degree in clinical psychopharmacology to give out prescriptions.
Psychologist VS Psychiatrist – Which One to Choose
For those who want to become a therapist who can conduct psychotherapy, perform research, and administer psychological tests, it might be a good idea to pursue a degree in psychology.
On the other hand, those who are interested in medicine and want to have the privilege of prescribing medications, it would be ideal to pursue a career in psychiatry.
Those who don’t want to spend five to eight years completing a graduate program might consider working as a counselor or social worker. They can still provide mental health services, depending on the extent of their training and experience. They only need to spend two to three years of graduate study.
Students also have the option to pursue psychiatric nursing. They still study medicine since they have to complete at least a master’s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing. As Advanced Psychiatric Nurses, they can assess patients, diagnose problems, conduct psychotherapy treatments, and even prescribe medications.