Psychology vs. Psychiatry: Do You Know the Difference?

Psychologist vs. psychiatrist. Learn which psychology career path is right for you.

graphic with psychology vs psychiatry differences

By Kimberly Brandes

Because psychologists and psychiatrists often work together for the well-being of the client, their job descriptions overlap. However, there are several crucial differences between a psychologist and psychiatrist, the most critical being the nature of treatment within the two professions.

Psychology vs. Psychiatry Treatment

Because psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they can prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment.

Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioral intervention. Psychologists are also qualified to conduct psychological testing, which is critical in assessing a person's mental state and determining the most effective course of treatment.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist Education

The professions of psychiatry and psychology also differ greatly in terms of education. Psychiatrists attend medical school and are trained in general medicine. After earning an MD, they practice four years of residency training in psychiatry. Their experience typically involves working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital with a variety of patients, from children and adolescents with behavior disorders to adults with severe cases of mental illness.

Psychologists must obtain a PhD or PsyD doctoral degree, which can take up to four or six years. Throughout their education, psychologists study personality development, the history of psychological problems and the science of psychological research. Graduate school provides rigorous preparation for a career in psychology by teaching students how to diagnose mental and emotional disorders in varying situations.

After graduate school, psychology students are required to complete an internship that can last one to two years. The internships give them exposure to:

  • methods of treatment
  • analytical testing
  • problem-solving techniques
  • psychological theory
  • behavioral therapy

After the internship, to become licensed, most states also require one or two years of practical work experience supervised by an authorized mental health professional.

Psychology vs. Psychiatry in Practice

After seeing a primary physician for a referral, a patient might work regularly with a psychologist addressing behavioral patterns. That psychologist may refer the patient to a psychiatrist who can prescribe and monitor medication. The psychologist and psychiatrist work in tandem to treat patient symptoms from both a behavioral and clinical standpoint.

The fields of psychology and psychiatry are both essential in researching and developing treatment for improving mental and emotional health. Differences aside, psychologists and psychiatrists share a common goal: helping people feel better.