Big Difference Between Psychiatrist and Psychologist

Many people use the words "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" interchangeably. While it is true that both professionals are trained in psychotherapy and treat a range of mental-health conditions, there are still some differences. Most people are not aware of the difference between psychiatrist and psychologist. Both these professionals work with patients suffering from trauma, grief, or mental disorders; however, there are situations when you need to choose one between the both. Keep reading to know what differentiates psychiatrist and psychologist.

What Is the Difference Between Psychiatrist and Psychologist?

As mentioned already, both professionals treat patients with mental disorders, but there are certain differences in their job descriptions, training and even fees that they charge. Here's more about it:

What Do They Do?

  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are basically medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of different mental disorders and other behavioral issues. Just like medical doctors in the United States, they can also write prescriptions to treat anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder.
  • Psychologist: Psychologists study the human mind through surveys, lab tests and a series of interviews. While some psychologists use this info to offer counseling to patients suffering from grief, trauma or mental disorders, others use this info to explain group behavior. Psychologists also study methods of personnel development that would improve an organization's work performance.

What Kind of Training Do They Need?

The second difference between psychiatrist and psychologist is that they need different training and have to learn different things.

  • Psychiatrist: To start your career as psychiatrist, you will first have to complete a bachelor's degree in one of the sciences followed by the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). You will then enroll in a4-year medical school program to complete your Doctor of Medicine (M.D) in which you will study cell biology, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, neurobiology, immunology, pathology, etc. It is also important to complete a 4-year residency – this will include three years of rotations in the mental health field. After this, you will have to work with geriatric patients or adolescents in a specialized fellowship program.
  • Psychologist: To start your career as a psychologist, you need to have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology or Bachelor of Science. You will need a master's degree to fill the job vacancy for industrial-organizational psychologists. You must hold a Doctor of Psychology or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology to practice. You will study quantitative methods in research, educational inquiry, child psychopathology, adult psychopathology, statistics and dynamic psychotherapy in your doctor degree program.

Which Credentials Are Needed?

  • Psychiatrist: You must be licensed as medical doctors to start practicing in your state of residency. You must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. You can also become board certified after passing the American Board of Psychiatry. You can also opt for specialty certification in areas such as forensic psychiatry, child psychiatry and addiction psychiatry.
  • Psychologist: You need to get a license from your state boards of psychology to start practicing as a psychologist. You can sit for the state licensing exam if you have the appropriate master's degree and a couple of years of internship or clinical experience.

How Much Do They Charge?

Generally, a psychiatrist's fees are usually higher as compared to a psychologist's fees.

  • On average, a psychiatrist charges about $74-$117 for 45-50 minutes of psychotherapy.
  • However, a psychologist may charge anywhere between $65 and $114 for a 50-minute therapy session.

What Are Their Treatment Methods?

The last difference between psychiatrist and psychologist is that they use different treating methods:

  • Psychiatrist: They meet with clients for 5-15 minutes and prescribe medications as per their conditions. Some psychiatrists may also provide psychotherapy. They treat mental disorders resulting from obtained or genetic physical problems through medication or therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.
  • Psychologist: They meet with clients for an hour or so and educate them about the mind-body relationship. They also offer emotional support and even conduct psychological testing. If certified and practicing in Louisiana and New Mexico, psychologists can prescribe mental health medications. They offer counseling and help patients find alternative ways of thinking to live a healthy life. They also help people quit bad habits and enjoy their relationships better.

Which Is Better?

Sometimes, you may be referred to someone-clinical social worker who is neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. Clinical social worker has master's degrees in social work and is licensed to practice psychotherapy after completing a couple of years of clinical training. In fact, as many as 60% of licensed mental health professionals in the US are clinical social workers. They cannot prescribe drugs though.

There is no way to identify the best among psychiatrist, psychologist and clinical social workers. Their credentials don't determine if they will be helpful in your case or not. You could have a bad therapeutic relationship or a good experience with any of these three professionals. Still, it is a good idea to opt for an experienced therapist who may have already helped people with your types of issues. 

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