Comparing Psychology and Psychiatry

It's only fair to tell you that this website was developed by a psychologist.  However, as objectively as possible, the similarities and differences between psychologists and psychiatrists will be presented for your review. Hopefully, this information will assist you in selecting a professional who can help you with your problem, and in deciding which type of professional you wish to contact.

Undergraduate College Education

Psychologists - A bachelor's degree from a four year accredited college or university. Most psychologists major in psychology, but that is not always a requirement. However, admission to graduate school usually requires a substantial background in psychology, and those entering without a psychology major may need to take additional undergraduate courses before beginning graduate studies.

Psychiatrists - A bachelor's degree from a four year accredited college or university. No specific major is required, although pre-med or a science major are most common. Admission to graduate school (medical school) usually requires a substantial background in natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry. There are no specific requirements for psychiatrists to take any undergraduate psychology courses, although some courses may be taken. There are no undergraduate psychiatry courses.

Graduate Professional Training

Psychologists - In addition to undergraduate training, all psychologists must attend graduate school. Some psychologists pursue a Master's degree, but the minimum acceptable standard for professional psychologists in independent practice is a doctoral degree in psychology or a closely allied field. The doctoral degree typically requires four to five years of full time study. The degree may be a Ph.D., a Psy.D., or an Ed.D., depending on the graduate training program.

The coursework includes training in the social science of psychology, with core courses covering the social, developmental, learning and biological bases for human behavior. This includes training in personality theory and psychopathology. Specialized training is also provided in diagnostic evaluation techniques, psychological testing, and psychotherapy and/or counseling methods. Many courses have a practicum requirement, which combines clinical experience and classroom knowledge.

Psychiatrists - Following graduation from college, all psychiatrists attend medical school for four years. This is the same training provided to all physicians, and involves courses in anatomy and physiology, as well as courses related to the different medical specialties. Those interested in specializing in psychiatry usually take clinical electives specifically related to psychiatry during their third or fourth year. Medical school also requires clinical rotations in    several medical specialties as part of the training program. Those interested in psychiatry would choose a placement in psychiatry as one of their rotations.

Experiential Training

Psychologists - During graduate school, psychologists take several practicum courses which combine clinical experience and classroom knowledge. Practicum courses may include work in a counseling center, a community agency, mental health clinic, or a hospital setting. Psychologists complete practicum courses in diagnostic testing as well as courses in counseling and/or psychotherapy  techniques.

As part of the graduate training program, or independent from it, psychologists complete an internship or its equivalent in supervised experience. An internship involves full time work experience providing direct service to clients under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Internships also include a variety of training opportunities to assist trainees in developing their skills. This experience involves more supervision and more training than would be provided in a regular work experience. Internships, or equivalent work experiences, may be completed in counseling centers, hospitals, state institutions, substance abuse programs, or community mental health centers, to name some examples.

In New Jersey, psychologists may complete a formal internship or gain this experience in a regular work setting, in a school, hospital, state institution or community agency, but must receive adequate supervision to satisfy the licensing requirements. Additional experience is also required before a psychologist can apply to take the licensing exam. New Jersey requires an additional year of full time work experience after completion of the doctoral degree, with the same intensive supervision standards followed for an internship. This requires one hour of supervision for every five hours of direct contact with clients. One half of this supervision must be one to one with the supervisor.

After completion of these requirements, applicants for licensure in psychology must continue to receive this intensive supervision until all requirements for licensing have been met, and the psychologist has been notified of licensure by the NJ Board of Psychological Examiners.

Psychiatrists - During medical school, students participate in clinical rotations in various specialty areas as part of their training. Prospective psychiatrists choose a psychiatric rotation as one of their clinical rotations. Most psychiatrists also complete a residency in psychiatry.

The residency involves three to four years of clinical training. While residency placement is usually within a hospital setting, part of the placement includes some experience working in an outpatient setting as well. Psychiatrists receive training in emergency and crisis evaluations, inpatient treatment, medication management of serious psychiatric disorders, and outpatient treatment. Since psychiatrists are physicians, they are the primary mental health professionals who can prescribe medications.

Psychiatrists are licensed as physicians, and there is no separate license for psychiatry. Physicians are licensed as soon as they graduate medical school and process the application for licensure. However, physicians may also apply for board certification in their specialty area to demonstrate that they have received additional training in their specialty.

Services Provided

Psychologists - The services provided by psychologists depend on the training they receive and their specialized interests. Typically, psychogists provide psychotherapy and counseling to individuals, groups, couples and families. Psychologists are trained in the administration, scoring and interpretation of psychological tests. Psychologists are the only mental health professionals qualified to properly interpret psychological tests. These tests can assess a      variety of psychological factors, including intelligence, personality traits, relationship factors, brain dysfunction and psychopathology. Neuropsychologists may also do cognitive retraining with brain injured clients.

Psychiatrists - As physicians, psychiatrists can prescribe medication to control a wide range of psychiatric symptoms. Most psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy and counseling serivces to individuals, and some psychiatrists provide services to couples, groups and families. Psychiatrists can administer electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT). Psychiatrists are more likely than psychologists to treat individuals with severe mental disorders. Also, psychiatrists are more likely to work on inpatient psychiatric units in hospital settings.

Some Differences Between Psychology and Psychiatry

Psychologists -

  1. More likely to view psychological problems as the result of life stress, and the development of maladaptive thought processes or behavior patterns, rather than as part of a disease process or biological imperfection.
  2. Less likely to see medication as a necessary part of the treatment process.
  3. Can administer and interpret psychological tests.

Psychiatrists -

  1. More likely to view psychological problems as the result of biological or medical processes, rather than the result of maladaptive learning.
  2. More likely to see medication as a necessary part of the treatment process.
  3. Can administer a variety of medical tests to determine if there are any biological disorders contributing to a person's mental health symptoms, and can prescribe medication.