Psychology vs. Psychiatry: What’s the Difference?

Psychology and psychiatry both study the human mind, but have different treatment therapies. Discover the differences between these professions.

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by Blake Weil

Published September 15, 2022

Reviewed by Tracey Burrell, Ph.D.

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Psychology vs. Psychiatry: What’s the Difference?
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Psychology and psychiatry both attempt to answer fundamental questions about the human mind and help diagnose and treat those with mental health conditions. The professions use different techniques and offer various specializations.

We review some of these key differences and potential careers in each field. Psychology and psychiatry require different training paths, so it's important to figure out which career you want to pursue.

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What’s the Difference Between Psychology and Psychiatry?

Psychology and psychiatry professionals both diagnose and treat people with mental health conditions. But, their treatment methods differ.

Typically, psychologists use talk and behavioral therapy to treat chronic mental issues, such as anxiety or depression. Clinical psychologists need a Ph.D. and a license. But, school and industrial psychologists may only need a master's degree. Psychologists and psychiatrists both see clients regularly, building relationships of trust.

Psychiatrists use medication to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. All psychiatrists hold an M.D. They typically evaluate patients' progress and manage their medications.

Psychology Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Psychology lets you develop a strong relationship with clients, helping them through tough times.
  • Many psychologists make their own hours, giving them flexibility.
  • Psychologists only need a master's degree after their bachelor's degree to obtain a license and can begin practicing quickly

Cons

  • Positions in public health can be low-paying, and private practice psychology can be competitive
  • Intense regulations mean practice can be complicated to establish
  • Hearing people's struggles can be emotionally draining

Psychiatry Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Psychiatry is generally very high paying compared to other potential careers
  • Managing medication can be an interesting intellectual challenge
  • Psychiatrists can eventually go into private practice and have more flexibility

Cons

  • Psychiatry requires at least eight years of training after a bachelor's degree
  • Psychiatrists often lack time to establish patient relationships
  • Psychiatry pays less than many other medical specialties that require a similar amount of training.

What Degree Do I Need to Work in Psychology?

Students typically need a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related discipline to work as clinical psychologists. However, depending on your career goals, some social workers offer similar services to a clinical psychologist, requiring a master's degree in social work. You can also pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. This option allows students to pursue independent research alongside your training.

Most states require a license for a psychologist to practice. While requirements vary from state, they generally include a certification exam, a master's degree, and supervised hours of clinical practice.

What Degree Do I Need to Work in Psychiatry?

A psychiatrist needs an M.D. to practice. While completing medical school, they need to pass medical board licensure exams. They then need to complete specialty-specific exams in psychiatry while completing their residency.

Residency is a period of supervised medical practice, typically four years for psychiatrists. During this period, they gain clinical experience and develop the ability to practice medicine independently.

Psychiatrists need to continually educate themselves about changes in psychiatric medicine. This includes a regular examination to ensure their medical knowledge is still sharp and up to date.

Career and Salary Outlook for Psychology and Psychiatry

Students can consider the job market when selecting what position to pursue after college.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that psychology jobs are growing about as fast as other jobs, with positions forecasted to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031. The median salary for a psychologist is $81,040 annually.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that growth for physicians, in general, is slower than average at 3% annually. They also report an average salary of $217,100 for psychiatrists.

Psychology Careers

Addiction Therapist

An addiction therapist uses various therapeutic techniques to help clients overcome addiction. This can vary from behavioral therapy to help them develop negative associations for an addictive substance to cognitive therapy to develop positive thinking and motivation.

Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $46,500

Behavioral Psychologist

A behavioral psychologist uses therapy to help patients learn helpful behaviors and curb negative ones. They use reinforcement techniques to help patients develop good habits and avoid self-destructive or antisocial behaviors.

Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $68,620

Child Psychologist

A child psychologist specializes in providing psychological care for children and adolescents. Common issues include school problems, family problems, and the onset of disorders like anxiety and depression.

Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $65,270

Psychiatry Careers

Psychiatrist

A general psychiatrist typically treats patients with psychiatric disturbances in a hospital setting. They're responsible for evaluating patients, coming up with a diagnosis, and identifying the best course of treatment.

Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $219,170

Child Psychiatrist

A child psychiatrist works to treat and medicate psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents. Special care and training are needed to manage medications as children's brains develop and grow.

Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $227,660

Director of Psychiatry

A director of psychiatry manages a psychiatric department, overseeing a team of doctors. They typically focus on managing, hiring, and training staff. They also may oversee complex cases requiring a larger team.

Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $262,680

Psychology vs. Psychiatry: Which Is Right for Me?

Psychology and psychiatry have very different work environments. Psychologists often work independently, seeing clients from small, independent offices. Psychiatrists most often work in a team of doctors, nurses, and other professionals in a hospital.

You should also consider work-life balance and salary when choosing a path. Psychiatrists tend to work longer hours than psychologists, but also earn more.

Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology and Psychiatry

Can I study psychiatry after psychology?

Yes, you can study psychiatry after psychology. Many students with either a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology then go on to pursue an MD. Specializing in clinical psychology, with patient-facing experience, could even be useful in gaining admission into medical school.

However, it is not necessary to study psychology before studying psychiatry. You can enter medical school without any prior courses in psychology.

Which is better: psychologist or psychiatrist?

While psychologists and psychiatrists work in a similar field, there are key differences that make it difficult to say whether one is better than the other. A psychologist primarily works with clients using talk and behavioral therapy, while a psychiatrist primarily prescribes medication to clients.

If you're deciding between a career in psychology or psychiatry, consider both job features and requirements. For example, psychiatrists are generally higher paid than psychologists. However, psychiatrists require a much longer training period than psychologists, including four years of medical school and four years of residency.

Should I major in psychology if I want to be a psychiatrist?

While psychology is a popular major for students who want to be a psychiatrist, it often isn't the best choice. Psychiatrists need to attend medical school, which requires coursework in chemistry, biology, and physics.

While a psychology major can get into medical school, they need to supplement their major courses with natural science courses. A natural science major may have an easier time preparing for medical school.However, opportunities as a psychology major may be helpful for a future psychiatrist. For example, participating in student research opportunities can help your chances of getting into medical school.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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