Psychology VS Psychiatry: What’s the Difference?

With the word “shrink” being the most common term for any type of therapist, many people fail to realize that there are major differences between them. The most common misconception is that psychology and psychiatry are the same thing and that professionals within those fields have the same educations, rights, and responsibilities. This could not be further from the truth; there are significant differences between the two fields that are important to understand. Both aim to study and research in order to help individuals who struggle with various mental issues, but they go about it in significantly different ways.

One is not necessarily better than the other, they are just two different ways of healing people with mental health problems. Both require a significant amount of education, training, and time, and both are very fascinating and rewarding fields. Take a look at some of the main differences between psychology and psychiatry and you will quickly see that while the ultimate goal is the same, the practice is very diverse.

Education and Training

From the very beginning, psychiatry and psychology are very different. The education required will send you in two different directions depending on which field you choose. Psychiatrists must acquire a medical degree while psychologists need a doctoral in psychology.

Once psychologists have attained their degree, they must move on to graduate school. From there, if they really want to establish themselves within their field, they must pursue either a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D.). The programs at the doctorate level take between five and eight years to complete and most areas require internships of at least two years before licensure is granted. The only way to be an actual psychologist is by completing the requirements mentioned above. The extra education is worth nothing if you do not complete it, since titles like counselor and therapists are used by social workers and other mental health professionals.

The major difference is that psychiatrists are physicians. They are trained specifically in the diagnosis and treatment of medical disorders. Psychiatrists must attend medical school and obtain an M.D. in order to practice. As with other medical fields, psychiatrists are required to complete a four year residency once they have completed school. Should they choose a specialization, they must also complete extra training in that field. Becoming a psychiatrist has the same requirements as becoming a doctor in any other field of medicine.


Because psychiatrists are doctors, they are authorized to prescribe medications. Psychologists are not doctors and therefore have to refer their patients in order to obtain medications for them. This inconvenience has caused many states in the US to begin pushing for psychologists to have some prescribing rights. The catch is that those who want the privilege of prescriptions must have their post-doctoral master’s degree or something of its equivalence in psychopharmacology.

Currently, the US states that are offering these rights to psychologists are Louisiana and New Mexico. Those who are licensed in one state and move to another will need to be sure to find out exactly what their rights are.

How to Choose

The question of which one is better should probably be replaced with which one is right. If you are debating between a career in psychology or psychiatry, the decision should not be a difficult one. Take a look at your own desires and interests and what you are more comfortable with. Do you prefer a medical setting and “Doctor” as a title? Do you prefer to heal people through medical practice and prescriptions rather than traditional therapy? If this sounds like you, then psychiatry is probably the road you should take. However, if you prefer a more therapeutic setting, enjoy the thought of psychotherapy, and are interested in conducting research, you may want to take the psychology route.

Similar Alternatives

If both psychology and psychiatry sound like great careers but you are not prepared for that much schooling, training, and time, there are a few other choices that you have. These fields have several career opportunities that involve working under a psychologist or psychiatrist, enjoying the rewards of the career, but do not require as much education.

If psychology is what interests you, you may want to consider becoming a licensed social worker or a counselor. Both of these professions offer rewarding experiences in helping people to overcome mental illness. Beyond your bachelor’s degree, these professions require only two or three years of graduate school, which means that you can do what you love without spending over 10 years working for it.

If you’d prefer a career in psychiatry, you may want to look into psychiatric nursing. Much like nursing in other fields of medicine, these nurses work closely with the psychiatrist and assist in patient assessment, diagnosis, psychotherapy, and even prescriptions. Psychiatric nurses must hold a master’s degree in psychiatric mental health but do not have to acquire all the extra education, training, and residencies required for psychiatrists.

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