Sometimes, people in the general population will use the terms psychologist and psychiatrist interchangeably to refer to a mental health practitioner who provides psychotherapy. There are important differences to understand, however, for individuals interested in psychology careers.
One of the more obvious differences between psychologists and psychiatrists is the education they receive. Practicing psychologists are individuals who have completed either a PhD in psychology or a PsyD and completed either an internship or additional clinical experience necessary to obtain licenses to practice in their states. Psychiatrists have attended medical school and graduated with MDs. Furthermore, following medical school, they are required to a complete a four-year residency program. Some psychiatrists go on to complete fellowships in specialty areas.
Another major difference between the mental health practitioners is their ability to prescribe medication to patients. With few exceptions, psychologists are not able to prescribe medications, while psychiatrists can. Only the states of New Mexico and Louisiana allow psychologists to prescribe medications under specific circumstances.
While some individuals may think that psychologists are relegated to dealing with life’s problems, like grief and divorce, and that psychiatrists tackle more serious mental health concerns, like schizophrenia, this is not true. Some psychologists treat patients with depression or schizophrenia, and some psychiatrists treat patients having difficulty moving on from tragedies.
For those interested in working in the mental health field, choosing between these two careers can be confusing. Generally speaking, if one has an interest in the theory, research, and the practice of human behavior, psychology may be a better fit than psychiatry.