When deciding whether to be a psychologist or psychiatrist, it’s important to know the difference. What you choose will determine what degree you pursue and at what level. It will also affect what you do in your career. Here’s more to help you understand the difference: psychologist vs psychiatrist.
written by Annie Rose Stathes
Psychologist vs Psychiatrist
To compare and contrast psychiatry and psychology, it makes sense to first answer the question: What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? Put simply, the main difference is that psychiatrists can prescribe medication and psychologists cannot. As such, psychiatrists spend more time helping patients find and manage medication, and psychologists spend more time treating mental and emotional suffering through psychotherapy. Both psychiatrists and psychologists, however, might be researchers and/or teachers at the college level.
What Is a Psychologist?
Psychologists treat patients through psychosocial therapy and concentrate on treating patients’ minds and emotions. Their education trains them on how to diagnose mental disorders and treat them through therapeutic methods.
Psychology Education Requirements
To become a psychologist, students typically must earn a master’s degree or PhD, depending on their career path. However, students might start their journey toward becoming a psychologist by earning an associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Earn a Master’s Degree to Become a Psychologist
Pursuing a master’s degree in psychology is a great first step to becoming a psychologist. Whether you want to work as a counselor, analyst, researcher, or another position, pursuing an advanced degree can give you the skills and knowledge you need to launch your career. Simply decide what you want to study and begin your journey! Here are some sponsored colleges that offer programs in various areas of psychology to get you started:
1. Sacred Heart University
Sacred Heart University is located in Fairfield, Connecticut and offers on-campus and online programs. Its online Master of Science in Applied Psychology with an emphasis in Community Psychology helps students pursue work as counselors or researchers in places such as rehabilitation facilities, employee assistant centers, health clinics, family resource centers, federal agencies, and other entities.
2. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
Contrary to what its name suggests, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers its Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at its Los Angeles campus. Through this program, students learn how to identify how people and groups help organizations meet and exceed their goals. In this discipline, business principles join psychological ones to help individuals and business succeed together.
3. Kaplan University
Kaplan University’s Master of Science in Psychology with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis helps students and professionals learn how to assess and understand the needs of children with autism. Students study concepts and theories of behavior and learn how to assess situations and intervene appropriately.
4. Walden University
Walden University is located in Baltimore, Maryland. Its online Master of Science in Forensic Psychology with an emphasis in Terrorism program teaches students how to think about and apply psychology-based insights, perspectives, and skills to areas of cybercrime, terrorism, victim advocacy, and criminal investigation.
5. Grand Canyon University
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Grand Canyon University’s Master of Science in Professional Counseling with an emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders program is offered online. It helps students pursue work as counselors who can identify, assess, and address developmental issues, childhood- and adolescence-related disorders, child-parent-related issues, and other areas associated with developmental psychology.
What Is a Psychiatrist and What Does a Psychiatrist Do?
Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental disorders and manage medication and treatment for patients. While they study the entire human body, their expertise focuses primarily on chemical imbalances within the brain. Their education and training helps prepare them to prescribe and manage medications that impact the brain’s chemistry. They might work together with psychologists to provide medicinal and therapeutic support to patients.
How to Become a Psychiatrist
Psychiatrist schooling begins by earning a doctorate degree in medicine or a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Depending on their career goals, students might also earn a PhD in medicine or another area of psychology to enable them to conduct particular types of research in the field. Students studying psychiatry learn everything that other medical students do but emphasize a study on the brain and the nervous system and how to diagnose and treat mental illnesses.
In addition to completing core, elective, and specialized courses, students typically complete a residency and secure board certification and certain licensures to practice psychiatric medicine.
Earn a Doctorate Degree to Become a Psychiatrist
While you might start your journey to being a psychiatrist by pursuing a master’s degree, you’ll need to eventually earn a doctorate degree in medicine with a specialization psychiatric care. Alternatively, you might earn a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. As a psychiatrist, you’ll likely work as a doctor and therapist and prescribe, monitor, and adjust medication for psychiatric patients. Here are some partner colleges through which you can pursue a doctorate degree in medicine:
1. The New York Medical College
The New York Medical College is located in the Hudson Valley region of New York State. It offers a joint M.D./Ph.D. program that allows students to become medical doctors and researchers. To earn this degree, students study subjects such as psychology, psychiatry, and medicine (which includes studies in subjects such as biology and chemistry). Students also conduct research and participate in clinical residencies.
2. The Medical College of London
The Medical College of London has a U.S. location in Wilmington, Delaware. It offers a diverse environment for studying medicine. Its programs are developed in Europe but adjusted for a U.S. audience at this location. It holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commissions on Colleges, which is a U.S. institution.
3. The Bastyr University
The Bastyr University is located in Seattle, Washington and offers a doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine. While students who earn this degree may not be able to prescribe western medication, they will be able to help diagnose psychiatric illness and prescribe natural care that treats the whole person. Treatment of the whole person includes the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual components that contribute to disease. Students in this program learn how to identify and treat the causes of disease rather than the symptoms.
4. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas is one of four medical schools in the University of Texas system. It offers a Doctorate of Medicine program. In it, students learn the basic sciences and mechanisms of disease and how to apply them in hospital and clinic settings. Students have a variety of options for specialization.
5. The International College of Medicine at University of NIS
The International College of Medicine at University of NIS’ parent location is located in Yugoslavia, but the school has a branch in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It offers a Doctor of Medicine degree program to students who have yet to earn a bachelor’s degree and to students who already have. Students may have options to work with doctors from Yugoslavia in a program like this one.
6. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology. In a program like this one, students learn how to identify mental illness and trauma and design treatment plans that include therapy, medicine, and other healing methodologies. Unable to prescribe medicine themselves, they typically work with physicians to do so.
7. The William James College
The William James College offers a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology with options to specialize in forensic psychology, clinical health psychology, neuropsychology, georpsychology, or children and family psychology. They can also focus their studies in areas that serve particular populations such as Latinos or veterans.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatrist?
Typically it takes approximately eight years to become a psychiatrist by earning a medical degree. To earn an M.D., students must study a core curriculum, an elective curriculum, and to become a psychiatrist, a curriculum that allows them to study psychology as it relates to diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medication. In addition to their in-school studies, students typically must complete a four-year residency.
Should I Become a Psychologist or Psychiatrist?
Whether you should become a psychologist or psychiatrist ultimately depends on two things:
- Do you want to focus your time on providing counseling and/or therapy without the ability to prescribe medication? Or do you want to spend less time providing counseling and therapy and more time using and adjusting medication to address mental health issues?
- How much time are you willing to spend in school? Typically, students who study psychology can earn a master’s degree in two years or a doctorate degree in four to six years. Students who study psychiatry, however, typically have to study for six to eight years.
Find Additional Options to Become a Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Use our site to find additional schools that offer programs in psychology and medicine.
You can find additional schools that offer programs across areas of psychology here. Note that areas of psychology include:
- Applied behavior analysis
- Clinical psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Community psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Organizational psychology
- Social and personality psychology
- Sports psychology