Psychologist vs Psychiatrist

Mental health disorders are prevalent across the country. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2019), one in five adults in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness. While the number of mental health disorders in adults has remained stagnant, the severity of mental illness continues to increase.Each year more than 10 million adults have suicidal thoughts (Mental Health America “The State of Mental Health in America” 2019).

People who experience mental health issues need quality care from professionals trained to help them. Two professionals at the forefront of mental health care are psychologists and psychiatrists.

Psychologist and psychiatrist roles are very similar but have some distinct differences. Psychologists have completed a doctoral degree in psychology and a two-year internship under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Much of the workload of psychologists entails meeting with groups, families, or individuals to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness. Treatment is provided through behavioral interventions, psychotherapy, and talk therapy. Typical workplaces include private clinics, schools, public health offices, outpatient treatment centers, and nursing homes.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are licensed medical doctors (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO). These professionals have completed medical school and an intensive psychiatric residency. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists can prescribe medications as a form of treatment in addition to psychotherapy and behavioral interventions.

Psychiatrists can also admit patients to the hospital, should it be necessary. Workplaces for psychiatrists are very similar to those of a psychologist, but they can also be employed in emergency rooms, hospitals, and inpatient treatment centers.

Below is a chart detailing the differences in the two careers, including educational requirements, job outlook, pay ranges, typical duties, and licensing requirements.

Education Psychologists must complete a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, EdD) in psychology followed by a two-year internshipPsychiatrists are required to complete four years of medical school after earning a bachelor’s degree. They graduate as either a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) and then complete at least a four-year residency in psychiatry
Timeline to Practice Doctoral degree programs for psychologists take between four and seven years plus a two-year internshipIt takes on average 12 years of postsecondary education plus a four-year residency to become a board-certified psychiatrist
Typical Duties Psychologists’ daily duties can include:

• Working with couples, families, or individuals to meet desired mental health goals
• Identifying and diagnosing mental illness
• Conducting scientific research
• Developing and implementing treatment plans
• Consulting in workplaces and schools to improve employee and student wellbeing
Typical duties of a psychiatrist include:

• Assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness
• Prescribing medication to patients to help with mental disorders
• Advising on lifestyle changes to mitigate mental stress
• Admitting patients to the hospital • Providing psychotherapy
Can They Prescribe Medications?Psychologists cannot prescribe medicationPsychiatrists can prescribe medication
Common Practice Settings Common workplaces for psychologists include hospitals, schools, nursing homes, mental health centers, outpatient clinics, private practices, and public health offices.Psychiatrists are employed at hospitals, private clinics, government agencies, emergency rooms, inpatient treatment centers, and research facilities.
Licensing and Certification Psychologists are required to be licensed in all 50 states but requirements vary from state to state.
Requirements can be found on the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Candidates may also become board certified through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), while neuropsychologists are certified through the American Board Of Clinical Neuropsychology (ACBN).
Psychiatrists are required to be licensed MDs or DOs in the state in which they practice.

Additionally, in order to use the title psychiatrist, doctors must be board certified by the
American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN)
Continuing Education Requirements Continuing education requirements are set by each state and vary from ten credits once a year to 60 credits every three years.Psychiatrists must maintain their medical license with continuing education. Requirements also vary by state.
Specializations Psychologists have numerous specializations including:

• Counseling
• Forensic
• Industrial and organizational
• School
• Addiction
• Child development
• Behavioral neuroscience
• Social
• Eating disorders
Specializations in psychiatry include:

• Adolescent
• Pediatric
• Geriatric
• Brain Injury
• Forensic
• Addiction
• Clinical
• Eating disorders
• Occupational
• Psychosomatic
• Neuropsychiatry
Salary According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS 2019), psychologists earn an average annual salary of $85,340. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS 2019) psychiatrists earn an average annual salary of $220,380.
Career OutlookThe BLS (2019) estimates that job openings in psychology will grow 14 percent between 2018 and 2028. This is much faster than the national average of 5 percent for all jobs.The BLS (2019) estimates that job openings for physicians and surgeons (the category psychiatrists fall under) will grow 7 percent between 2018 and 2028. This is slightly faster than national job growth.
Professional Associations and Resources • Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
• American Board of Professional Psychology
• American Board Of Clinical Neuropsychology
• American Medical Association
• American Psychiatric Association
• American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


At, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth and insightful articles since 2019, aiding prospective students to navigate the complexities of choosing the right healthcare degree. Her recent work includes topics such as the ethics of gene editing and physician assistant’s fight for autonomy.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.