Psychiatry vs Psychology: What is The Difference?

When the job descriptions of two similar professions overlap, it can be hard to differentiate one profession from the other. This is true for psychiatry and psychology. While most people are aware that both psychiatrists and psychologists treat people with mental health issues, many individuals struggle to differentiate the two.

Let’s start with the largest difference between the two professions, which is the fact that psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors, which means that they have earned a medical degree and can prescribe medication to their patients. Alternatively, psychologists cannot prescribe medication, even if they have the doctor designation (PhD, PsyD, EdD)*.

There are other differences between psychiatrists and psychologists but let’s review their definitions before we go any further.

What is Psychiatry?

In medical terms, psychiatry is a field of study which focuses on understanding and treating mental health problems. Psychiatry originated in the 1800s when Johann Christian Reil, a doctor from Germany, began studying how medicine could be used to treat mental health problems. Individuals specializing in this field are called psychiatrists. To become a psychiatrist, an individual needs to earn a medical degree, which can include a Doctor of Osteopathy degree and complete licensure requirements.Currently, demand is high for addiction and forensic psychiatrists. Psychiatrists typically earn anywhere from$125,000-200,000 annually. Psychiatry salaries are affected by experience and education.

What is Psychology?

Psychologists specialize in human behavior. In other words, psychologists attempt to understand how the brain functions neurologically and physiologically and how these functions affect human behavior and belief. The word psychology was first phrased by Rudolph Gockel, a German philosopher during the 1500s.

Licensed individuals with a doctorate degree in this field are called psychologists. According to the APA, “in most states, the independent practice of psychology requires a doctoral degree and a state license.” There are, however, numerous branches and levels within the field of psychology. Holding a master’s degree in this field may qualify you for many psychology jobs but will most likely require you to be supervised by someone with a doctorate. Some psychologists holding master’s degrees specialize in forensic, industrial-organizational, and clinical psychology.

Psychiatry vs Psychology

After reviewing these definitions, you hopefully have a better idea of what makes these fields different. Both terms begin with the psyche, literally meaning “related to mind,” while the suffixes “logy” refers to science and “iatry” to treatment. In other words, psychiatrists treat mental health illnesses, and psychologists conduct research to learn more about cognition and human behavior.

Although psychologists and psychiatrists administer counseling and psychotherapy, psychiatrists are permitted to prescribe drugs. Additionally, psychiatrists and psychologists conduct different types of research. Psychiatrists typically focus on concepts related to psychiatric medication, while psychologists usually focus on concepts related to research and clinical psychology.

*A few jurisdictions (Arizona, Illinois, and New Mexico) are now permitting psychologists to prescribe drugs after notifying a psychiatrist.

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