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Psychologist vs Psychiatrist Career & Salary Differences

The titles ‘psychologist’ and ‘psychiatrist’ sound similar, and both receive training to help people with psychological problems. But these mental health professionals are different. Each has a different educational background, training, and treatment focus.

Which should you choose? Below is more information on the similarities and differences between these psychologists and psychiatrists.

Practice Differences

Psychologists and psychiatrists use different methods and tools to treat mental health problems.

Psychologists

Psychologists have a master’s degree in psychology and a doctoral degree in psychology in most cases and perform the following:

  • Psychologists perform mental health counseling and therapy with individuals as psychiatrists do.
  • But psychologists cannot prescribe medications. But with additional education, psychologists can prescribe drugs in some states, including Idaho, New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, and Iowa. A course in pharmacology is needed.
  • They usually treat people with talk therapy as they sit with the patient and talk about issues.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most common type of talk therapy used. They help patients to overcome their negative thinking.
  • Talk therapy can occur with individuals, families, or groups.
  • Psychologists focus mostly on behavior. If you say you are depressed and cannot get out of bed, that is a behavior that the psychologist will study. They will look at sleep patterns, eating, and negative thoughts. Psychiatrists may look at chemical imbalance as well.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists have an MD in most cases and do the following:

  • Treat people with bipolar disorder, anxiety problems, major depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
  • Diagnose mental health problems with psychological tests, one-on-one therapy, and lab tests to rule out physical problems.
  • Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, including antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, sedatives, and stimulants.
  • Closely monitor patients after prescribing drugs for signs of improvement or side effects.
  • Can prescribe electroconvulsive therapy (for severe depression only) and light therapy that can help with seasonal depression.
  • Have a better sense of neurochemistry and biology than psychologists. For example, before saying someone is depressed, a psychiatrist may check for a vitamin deficiency or thyroid issue.

Education Differences

Psychologists and psychiatrists have different educations and training requirements.

Psychologists

Psychologists must earn at least a master’s degree in psychology. To practice independently and with no restrictions, they must earn their Ph.D. in psychology or PsyD in psychology. It takes four to six years to earn a doctorate in psychology.

Additionally:

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists must graduate from medical school as an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

  • After earning their MD or DO, psychiatrists must take and pass a written examination to practice medicine in their state.
  • They also must complete a four-year residency, working with patients in outpatient and hospital environments. They also learn to diagnose and treat major mental health problems with therapy, drugs, and other treatments.
  • Psychiatrists are required to pass an examination offered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to be board-certified.
  • Psychiatrists may get more training in a specialty, such as geriatrics, forensics, addiction, sleep, or pain medicine.

Salary Differences

Salary is not everything, but there is no doubt a significant difference in what each professional earns:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that psychologists earn a median salary of $80,000.
  • Psychiatrists earn a median salary of $220,400, according to BLS data.

Choosing Between Psychologist and Psychiatrist

There are many factors to consider before choosing between these two critical professions. To sum up:

  • Psychiatrists have a longer educational process – up to eight years that includes medical school and residency.
  • A psychologist’s doctoral degree takes four to six years and one or two years of post-graduate clinical work.
  • A medical degree is the most expensive, followed by a Ph.D. PsyD is the least expensive option and generally easier for admission than an MD or Ph.D. program.
  • A psychiatrist’s career may be better for you if you want to treat major mental problems such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
  • If you want to focus on less severe mental health disorders and do mostly talk therapy, becoming a psychologist may be a good option.
  • Psychologists offer many treatment options for children, such as play therapy. Psychiatrists work with children with more difficult mental health problems that need medication.
  • Many mental health problems are treated with a combination of therapy and medication, which means being a psychiatrist if you want to prescribe.

What The Experts Say

We checked in with some experts on Quora.com on this question:

“Should I become a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

  • “Medicine and psychiatry university entrance scores are quite high and competitive. Most psychiatrists tend to work part time in government or private mental health facilities and have a part time private practice. Psychiatrists tend to make very good money. From a financial perspective, it’s better to become a psychiatrist. From a hierarchy point of view…the psychiatrist and managers (if working as part of a team) are at the top. So that’s another reason to want to be a psychiatrist. Not just so that you’re in control or feel more important, but so you can develop and follow through with a treatment plan. For example, when you work as a psychologist for government or private mental health facilities, you work as part of a team. Decisions regarding your client’s treatment are often determined by others.” – Kamal Bekhazi, Senior Research/Project/Health Policy Officer.
  • “Psychiatrists are medical doctors that went on to a 4-year psychiatry residency. That’s a minimum of 12 years of college total. Right now, most of that industry is focused on short patient visits and “med checks,” so make sure you are ok with that. You can branch out into areas like psychotherapy, but there are easier routes to do that, and insurance rarely covers this type of treatment. Psychologists are psychology students who got either a Psy.D or a PhD in psychology. They have easier school entrance requirements, shorter schoolings, and generally make significantly less money than psychiatrists. Most PhD/PsyD programs focus on research and turning you into an academic researcher. If you want to be primarily a practitioner, you are still going to have to deal with a lot of research courses in grad school, especially if you go to a good one.” – Jack Gerdes, CEO and Social Intelligence Coach.

Summary

There is some overlap between the psychologist and psychiatrist but their training is quite different, and how they approach their patients is not the same. Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, while most psychologists cannot.

Whichever psychology career you choose, note that psychologists and psychiatrists do not always work in complete isolation from one another. Psychologists often see patients each week for counseling. A psychiatrist may see the same patient on a monthly basis for psychotherapy or psychopharmacology.

Working as a collaborative team, a psychologist and psychiatrist can make a substantial difference in the mental health and lives of their patients.

References

PSYD, PHD, MASTERS PROGRAMS