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It's only fair to tell you that this website was developed by a psychologist. However, we have tried to provide accurate information about the similarities and differences between psychologists and psychiatrists. Hopefully, this information will assist you in selecting a professional who can  help you with your problem.

Psychologists and Psychiatrists can be compared in the following ways:

 

Undergraduate College Education

Psychologists - A bachelor's degree from a four year accredited college or university. Most psychologists major in psychology, but that is not always a requirement. However, admission to graduate school usually requires a substantial background in psychology, and those entering without a psychology major may need to take additional undergraduate courses before beginning graduate studies.

Psychiatrists - In the USA, a bachelor's degree from a four year accredited college or university is usually required prior to admission to medical school. No specific major is required, although premed or a science major are most common. Admission to medical school usually requires a substantial background in natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry. There are no specific requirements for psychiatrists to take any undergraduate psychology courses, although some courses may be taken. There are no undergraduate psychiatry courses. However, foreign trained psychiatrists may not have obtained a college degree before studying medicine.  

Graduate Professional Training

Psychologists - In addition to undergraduate training, all psychologists must attend graduate school. Some states license psychologists with a Master's degree, but the minimum educational requirement for licensed psychologists in most states today is a doctoral degree in psychology or a closely allied field. The doctoral degree typically requires four to five years of full time study. The degree may be a Ph.D., a Psy.D., or an Ed.D., depending on the graduate training program. The course work includes training in the science of psychology, with core courses covering the social, developmental, learning and biological bases for human behavior. This includes training in personality theory and psychopathology. Specialized training is also provided in diagnostic evaluation techniques, psychological testing, and psychotherapy and/or counseling methods. Many courses have practicums, which combine clinical experience and classroom knowledge.

Psychiatrists - In the USA, following graduation from college, psychiatrists attend medical school for approximately four years. This is the same training provided to all physicians, and involves courses in anatomy and physiology, as well as courses related to the different medical specialties. Those interested in specializing in psychiatry usually take clinical electives specifically related to psychiatry during their third or fourth year. Medical school also requires clinical rotations in several medical specialties as part of the training program. Those interested in psychiatry would choose a placement in psychiatry as one of their clinical rotations.  

Experiential Training

Psychologists - During graduate school, psychologists take several practicums which combine clinical experience and classroom knowledge. Practicums may include work in a counseling center, a community agency or a hospital setting. Psychologists complete practicums in diagnostic testing as well as courses in counseling and/or psychotherapy techniques.

As part of the graduate training program, or independent from it, psychologists complete an internship or its equivalent in supervised experience. An internship involves full time work experience providing direct service to clients under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Internships also include a variety of training opportunities to assist trainees in developing their skills. This experience involves more supervision and more training than would be provided in a regular work experience. Internships, or equivalent work experiences, may be completed in counseling centers, hospitals, state institutions, substance abuse programs, or community mental health centers, to name some examples.

States may allow psychologists to complete the formal internship or gain this experience in a regular work setting, in a school, hospital, state institution or community agency, but they must receive adequate supervision to satisfy the licensing requirements. Additional experience may also be required before a psychologist can apply to take the licensing exam. For example, in New Jersey an additional year of full time work experience is required after completion of the doctoral degree, with the same intensive supervision standards followed for an internship. This requires one hour of supervision for every five hours of direct contact with clients. One half of this supervision must be one to one with the supervisor. Other states require a separate exam covering the laws governing psychology in that state.

After completion of these requirements, applicants for licensure in psychology must continue to receive this intensive supervision until all requirements for licensing have been met, and the psychologist has been notified of licensure by the Board of Psychological Examiners.

Psychiatrists - During medical school, students participate in clinical rotations in various specialty areas as part of their training. Prospective psychiatrists choose a psychiatric rotation as one of their clinical rotations. Psychiatrists usually also complete a residency in psychiatry.

The residency involves three to four years of clinical training. While residency placement is usually within a hospital setting, part of the placement usually includes experience working in an outpatient setting as well. Psychiatrists receive training in emergency and crisis evaluations, inpatient treatment, medication management of serious psychiatric disorders, and outpatient treatment.

Psychiatrists are licensed as physicians, and there is no separate license for psychiatry. However, most psychiatrists obtain board certification to demonstrate their competence in the specialty. Physicians are licensed once they graduate medical school, and pass all licensing exams. Physicians may be licensed and practice without board certification in a specialty area.

Services Provided

Psychologists - The services provided by psychologists depend on the training they receive and their specialized interests. Typically, psychologists provide psychotherapy and counseling to individuals, groups, couples and families. Psychologists are trained in the administration, scoring and interpretation of psychological tests. Psychologists are the only mental health professionals qualified to properly interpret psychological tests. These tests can assess a variety of psychological factors, including intelligence, personality traits, relationship factors, brain dysfunction and psychopathology. Neuropsychologists may also do cognitive retraining with brain injured clients. Several states have developed programs to allow psychologists with additional training to prescribe medications appropriate to the treatment of mental disorders.

Psychiatrists - As physicians, psychiatrists can prescribe medication to control a wide range of psychiatric symptoms. Some psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy and counseling services to individuals, and some psychiatrists provide services to couples, groups and families. Psychiatrists can also administer electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT). Psychiatrists are more likely than psychologists to treat individuals with severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. Also, psychiatrists are more likely to work on inpatient psychiatric units in hospital settings.

Some Differences

Psychologists

  1. More likely to view psychological problems as the result of life stress, and the development of maladaptive behavior patterns, rather than as part of a disease process or biological imperfection. 
  2. Less likely to see medication as a necessary part of the treatment process, although not opposed to medical treatment used in conjunction with psychological treatment.
  3. Can administer and interpret psychological tests.
  4. Have more intensive training in personality development.

Psychiatrists

  1. More likely to view psychological problems as the result of biological or medical processes, rather than the result of maladaptive learning.
  2. More likely to see medication as a necessary part of the treatment process.
  3. Can administer a variety of medical tests.
  4. Can prescribe medication.
  5. (Note: Some psychologists have received training to allow them to prescribe medications as well, but it is not part of current psychological training)