Psychiatry and psychology are closely related fields that have very closely related practitioners, psychiatrists and psychologists. While both of these fields deal with the mind, human behavior, and human emotions, they are quite different from each other. Knowing which professional to contact requires that you know the difference between the two.

Psychiatrists’ Education
Psychiatrists differ from psychologists in that they are trained in general medicine. Instead of receiving a degree from a psychology program, psychiatrists attend medical school. After earning their MD, they have to complete four years of residency in psychiatry, like any other kind of doctor and their specialty.

Once a psychiatrist has received his or her education, he usually works within a medical setting. Sometimes psychiatrists open their own practices while sometimes they work within an established medical setting, like a hospital.

Psychologists’ Education
Psychologists are not trained in medicine and do not attend medical school. They generally attend graduate school for 5-7 years and end up with a doctorate degree. They may hold what is known as a PhD or a PsyD. Psychologists who are interested in treeing patients as opposed to researching generally acquire a PsyD.

Psychologists are more interested in assessing and altering behavior patterns. They use various forms of therapy including talk and psychotherapy to help patients change behavior and alleviate various symptoms. Other psychologists do not see patients at all, but focus on research and theoretical psychology.

Psychiatrists’ in Action
Psychiatrists exist to see patients, not do research. The key difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists are permitted to prescribe medications. While psychiatrists usually do not solely rely on medication to help patients, many health insurance plans discourage time and money spent on psychotherapy. Much of the psychiatrists’ time is spent on prescribing, following up on, and adjusting medications for patients.

Many studies have shown that the average psychiatrist makes less money doing therapy than they do during a session of medication management. Due to the financial realities of the situation, most psychiatrists spend most of their time dealing with medication. Because psychotherapy can be done by psychologists (who cost less than psychiatrists) most psychiatrists do not spend much time on this branch of treatment.

Psychologists in Action
Psychologists are not permitted to prescribe medication to patients. Often, if a psychologist is presented with an individual they think would benefit from medication, the psychologist will refer him or her to a psychiatrists. The psychologist and psychiatrist will then work together to help the patient. Psychologists often spend time assessing patient’s mental status and health through various diagnostic behavioral and personality tests.

Various personality tests include questionnaires like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) and the Rorschach test (or so-called “ink blot test”). The purpose of these tests is to asses how people view themselves and how they may behave. Psychology relies much more heavily on observation, self-reported surveys and questionnaires, and other “soft” data acquisition models than psychiatry, which focuses on physical and mental conditions.

Additionally psychologists are interested in topics that generally lie outside the realm of psychiatry. Concepts such as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, and relationships all fall under the gaze of the psychologist.

The easiest way to differentiate between the two types of professionals is to think of psychiatry as a branch of medicine and as psychology as an academic and applied discipline focusing on the study of mental processes and behavior. Psychiatrists are most interested in helping sick people become healthy while psychologists are most apt to focus on learning more about the processes behind thinking and behavior.


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