What’s the Difference: Psychologist vs Psychiatrist
Which healthcare professional should a patient with mental health problems or conditions seek out: a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist? The answer could be both, but each professional for different reasons! While Psychologist and Psychiatrist careers are often mistakenly thought of as identical, these careers in healthcare are actually quite different for several reasons. What differentiates these professions are the educational requirements and the treatments which they are able to provide. So, here are the facts:
What is a Psychologist
A Psychologist is a healthcare professional responsible for evaluating and assessing a patient’s cognitive, emotional, social behaviors and processes. This concentration on the patient’s mind and emotions helps a Psychologist to better understand their thoughts and feelings. Behavioral intervention can be used to reach clinical conclusions as well. To reach optimal solutions, Psychologists may rely on controlled experiments, psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. They can also be trained to administer psychological tests (such as personality and IQ tests).
Tests can be critical when seeking to determine a patient’s mental state and the most effective course of treatment. Aside from administering tests, other responsibilities of Psychologists include discussing treatment plans with individual patients, conducting research and diagnosing disorders.
“The career of a Psychologist can be nearly as varied and diverse as the individuals who become Psychologists,” Benjamin Silber, Ph.D., a Licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Little Rock, Ark., explained. Psychologists may provide therapy, psychological assessment, consultation, teaching, supervision, program development and management, research, or a combination of these services. Given the range of opportunities available to psychologists, I have enjoyed consistently interesting and engaging work.”
Psychologist Educational Requirements
To become a Psychologist, learners must first obtain a bachelor’s degree, ideally in psychology or a related field. Next, they must enroll in a doctor of psychology (Psy.D) degree program (allowing them to receive their master’s degree along the way). They may also choose to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. Graduate psychology programs require additional years of educational coursework, including training in statistics and the latest psychological testing materials. Even with a doctoral degree in an area of psychology, Psychologists are not medical doctors and they are not trained in general medical principles.
Other prerequisites to entering a career as a Psychologist include completing two internships, the second being full-time and accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). A dissertation study, which is an in-depth research project involving detailed statistical analysis, is also required. Lastly, prospective Psychologists must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), a national psychology certification, and a state exam in the state which they are seeking to practice within.
“The greatest challenge for me was completing my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. These research projects are substantial and require a significant amount of time to complete,” Silber stressed. “Completing the educational requirements is certainly difficult, however, given the reward, the work is easily worth it in the end.”
What is a Psychiatrist
Alternatively, a Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in assessing, diagnosing and treating mental health conditions and disorders. These professionals may also work to prevent or deter mental health problems through counseling mechanisms and detailed management plans. Psychiatrists also counsel patients (also check out a career as a Counselor) on long-term management techniques, lifestyle best practices and mental health triggers. They readily work with their patient’s Family Physician to fully understand the scope of a patient’s health. A patient does not need a referral from a Physician to see a Psychologist for therapy or treatment. They can contact a Psychologist directly whenever they feel they need treatment.
Psychiatrists will further prescribe medication to their patients as they see necessary. Examples of patients who may be prescribed medication as part of their treatment plan can include those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression.
“I always loved the idea of helping people with their emotional and relationship issues, which makes a career as a Psychiatrist very rewarding. I also liked the idea of helping people from a more medical standpoint, as I believe a lot of the emotional suffering I interact with can be attributed to the biochemical nature of the human brain,” Daniel Rousch, DO, a Psychiatrist practicing in Bedford, Texas, explained. “The biggest challenges in this career is the stigma associated with mental health and often the financial costs.”
Psychiatrist Educational Requirements
To become a Psychiatrist, the first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree program. Most students wishing to become a Psychiatrist choose to major in a psychology, ethics, statistic or a life science. So, what can you do with a psychology degree? Upon graduating from a bachelor’s degree program, learners can next take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), submit their scores, complete general applications, and wait for acceptance from a medical schools which they hope to attend.
Once enrolled into a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (OD) program, medical students will take advanced courses in anatomy, biology, pathology and other sciences. They will also experience clinical rotations and receive instruction on behavioral science and psychopathology. Participation in additional psychiatric research programs may be further required. Through these programs and experiences, Psychiatrists are expected to learn all of the systems and functions in the human body, treatment plans for each medical condition, examination and interpersonal communication skills.
“After graduating medical school, taking the medical board exam is required. A specially-designated internship or residency will be needed as well, followed by another test to prove mastery of a specialty,” Rousch said. “I enjoyed all of the educational process including the challenge, the knowledge and the education of it all, except gross anatomy which was primarily memorization.”
What’s the Difference?
Ultimately, the difference between a career as a Psychologist and that of a Psychiatrist stems from the professional’s ability to prescribe medication and to diagnose chemical imbalances within the brain. As Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they are entitled to treat the mental health of a patient, prescribe medications and discuss medication management. Alternatively, Psychologists study of human interaction based on emotional and coping responses or reactions.
So, patients may seek a referral from their primary care Physician to see a Psychologist to address possible mental disorders and conditions. Then, if medication is considered a possibility, a Psychologist may refer the patient to a Psychiatrist who will then prescribe and monitor prescription medication.
How are they Similar?
Careers as a Psychologist and as a Psychiatrist complementary and are both centered around listening to their patients’ problems and concerns, and helping them find manageable solutions and improve their emotional well-being. They also help to provide the means by which their patients can manage and overcome obstacles in their lives.
Overall, both of these professionals are essential to mental healthcare, and they both seek to guide their patients toward optimal health outcomes. Learn about other careers in mental health today!