Differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist

A few years ago, when I told my friends that I want to be a psychologist, they said to me, “so you wanna be a doctor that treats mental disorders.” Somehow I was able to make them understand the difference between the two. I later realized that they are not the only ones that are confused about the differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Although both works to solve mental health-related problems and provide psychotherapy to the patients, they are different in many aspects. Similarly, both psychologists and psychiatrists team up very often for diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems.

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Here are some differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist:

1. Academic background and training

A psychologist generally holds a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree, whereas a psychiatrist holds an M.D degree. The Psy.D. or Ph.D. involves four or five years of residency and research works after the completion of a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree. Similarly, to become a psychiatrist, students first earn an undergraduate degree (generally in life sciences), and later they attend medical school and receive an M.D.

Many clinical psychology Ph.D. programs follow the Scientist–practitioner model, also known as the Boulder Model. This model provides clinical psychologists with a foundation in research as well as a scientific practice. Similarly, the Doctor of Psychology (Psy .D) emphasizes professional practice more than the research, also known as the practitioner-scholar or Vail models. On the other hand, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed 3 or 4 years of residency training in psychiatry.

2. Treatment approaches

Many psychologists work on the diagnosis and treatment of emotional and mental health problems among individuals using various assessment techniques and cognitive as well as behavioral interventions. The different psychotherapy approaches are psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy, gestalt therapy, and so on.

On the other hand, psychiatrists provide medications, psychotherapy, and brain stimulation therapies as per the requirement. The various brain stimulation therapies are electroconvulsive therapy, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), deep brain stimulation (DBS), repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), and magnetic seizure therapy (MST).

Another critical distinction between them is unlike psychiatrists; psychologists can not prescribe medicines/drugs as they lack medical training.

3. Conditions treated

Generally, clinical psychologists diagnose and treat various mental, emotional, neurodevelopmental, and behavioral disorders like learning disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Similarly, as psychiatrists have a deep understanding of both physiological and mental health, they help people with conditions like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, suicidal ideas, autisms, and so on. They also provide urgent care for a sudden medical illness whenever required.

4. Licenses, certifications, and registrations

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are subjected to get licenses and certifications from different governing bodies. For example, in the United States, a psychiatrist has to accreditation through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Similarly, a psychologist shall receive the board certification through the American Board of Clinical Psychology.

5. Job outlook

Both psychiatrists and psychologists clinical psychologists work in health care centers, educational/school settings, rehabilitation, or conduct research. Many of them also do private practices. Psychiatrists typically earn higher salaries than psychologists all around the world. Employment of both psychologists and psychiatrists is projected to grow faster than average than other occupations in this decade.