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At the most basic level, psychologists and psychiatrists work with patients and clients to address mental health issues. However, it isn’t always that simple.
Within the field, there are numerous specializations covering a wide variety of workplaces, types of patients, and type of care provided.
Below is a breakdown of the different types of psychologists and psychiatrists, what typical job duties may be for that specialty, what education and certifications may be needed, and professional associations related to that specialty.
These include clinical, neuro, sports, holistic, pediatric (adolescent), analytical (Jungian), and industrial specializations, among others.
Clinical Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists are what are most typically thought of when one thinks about this profession. These are the professionals who work one on one with patients to address mental health issues. Job duties include:
- Administering intelligence, personality, and other psychological tests
- Interpreting test results
- Diagnosing mental health disorders
- Writing treatment plans
- Consulting with other healthcare providers
- Prescribing medications (psychiatrists only)
- Providing psychotherapy
Psychologists have typically earned a doctor of philosophy in psychology or clinical psychology (PhD) or a doctor of psychology (PsyD). Board certification as a clinical psychologist is obtained through the American Board of Clinical Psychology (ABCP), which is part of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). The main professional association is the American Academy of Clinical Psychology.
Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are medical doctors (MD) who have completed medical school and a psychiatric residency. They are certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Once a board certified psychiatrist, professionals can apply to join the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Neuropsychologist or Neuropsychiatrist
Neuropsychologists and neuropsychiatrists work with patients to treat cognitive and brain disorders. Patients of neuropsychologists and neuropsychiatrists may have traumatic brain injuries, degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or diminished brain function. These professionals work either in research or clinical settings and responsibilities include:
- Devising experiments to learn about brain function or deficiencies
- Conducting experiments
- Comparing test results of healthy and unhealthy brains
- Proposing and testing treatments for neurological conditions
- Recording and analyzing data
- Writing reports and journal articles on findings
- Evaluating and assessing patients with brain injuries or neurological conditions
- Writing treatment plans for patients
- Consulting with other medical professionals
Education for neuropsychologists entails completing a doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD) or a doctor of psychology (PsyD) with a concentration in neuropsychology. The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN) is the certifying body for neuropsychologists.
Neuropsychologists have earned a medical doctorate (MD) and completed a residency in neuropsychology. They are certified through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) and can join the American Neuropsychiatric Association (ANPA).
Analytical (Jungian) Psychologist
Based on the philosophies and research of Carl Jung, analytical psychologists work to understand how the mind works. They utilize their expertise in how the brain functions to help clients overcome emotional and mental blockages. Typically clients of analytical (or Jungian) psychologists are patients who have developed neurosis or other psychological conditions. Job duties for this type of psychologist include:
- Meeting one on one with clients
- Administering tests, including personality tests, to assess a client’s mental health disorders
- Providing talk therapy to help clients understand their mental and emotional blocks
- Assisting patient in analyzing why they do the things they do
- Developing a good rapport with clients in order to gain their trust to better provide therapy
- Meeting with clients long-term as the process can take many months or even years
Analytical psychologists must first earn a doctor of philosophy in psychology or psychology (PhD) or a doctor of psychology (PsyD). The C.G. Jung Institute offers an analyst training program for those wishing to receive specialized training as an analytical psychologist. Professionals who practice in this field join the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP)
Biological Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Biological psychology or psychiatry strives to understand the biological basis for mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and others. Professionals in this field analyze thought patterns and behavior along with genetics and the brain’s chemical make-up to understand why people do what they do. Job duties in this field include:
- Proposing research studies on people and animals
- Executing and supervising studies that examine the cause and effect of brain function
- Evaluating the effect of naturally produced chemicals, such as hormones, on the brain
- Analyzing how brain structure could be the cause of depression, anxiety, or other disorders
- Assessing the effect of psychopharmaceuticals on clients’ behavior
- Utilizing brain imaging to better understand brain anatomy
Biological psychologists and psychiatrists work primarily in research facilities. Psychologists have earned a PhD in psychology or a PsyD with a heavy emphasis on brain development and research.
While there is no official association for biological psychologists, they may join the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPN) and are licensed through their state. Psychiatrists have completed an MD with an emphasis on research. Their main professional organization is the Society of Biological Psychiatry (SOBP).
Pediatric (Adolescent) Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Children with mental health issues are most often treated by pediatric psychologists or psychiatrists. Professionals in this field apply the traditional principles of psychiatry or psychology to the pediatric field. Patients can include infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents. Professionals in this field typically specialize in one particular age group. Job duties in this field include:
- Meeting one on one with children and families
- Assessing mental health issues in children through testing
- Diagnosing mental health disorders in children
- Writing treatment plans for diagnosed disorders
- Working with families to develop plans for managing children’s behavior
- Collaborating with other medical professionals
- Prescribing medications (psychiatrists only)
Psychologists who work in pediatrics have earned, at a minimum, a PhD in psychology or a PsyD with a clinical internship in pediatrics. The professional associations for pediatric psychologists include the Society of Pediatric Psychology and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
Pediatric psychiatrists have earned an MD in psychiatry and completed their clinical rotations in pediatrics. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is the main professional association for pediatric psychiatrists.
Brains develop from birth until death, going through numerous changes. Developmental psychologists study this change and growth. Typically, developmental psychologists focus on a specific time period of life but approach their treatment and therapy with an understanding of the development of the brain before, during, and after that time. Typical job duties include:
- Meeting one on one with clients or patients
- Evaluating mental health disorders in a particular population
- Educating patients and their families about mental health development and changes
- Engaging in research around brain development
- Diagnosing developmental disabilities or mental health disorders due to aging
- Writing treatment plans to address developmental deficiencies or mental decline due to aging
Developmental psychologists have earned either a PhD in psychology or a PsyD. While pursuing a doctorate, students who wish to pursue this field focus their research on developmental psychology. The main professional association for this field is the American Psychology Association (APA) Div. 7: Developmental Psychology.
Correctional (Prison) Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Prisons are full of individuals who need mental health therapy. Incarceration is very taxing and mental health support is needed in order to withstand sentences and reintegrate into normal life. While there aren’t nearly enough, many prisons employ psychiatrists or psychologists to help inmates. Responsibilities in this field include:
- Evaluating inmates’ mental health
- Diagnosing mental health disorders in inmates
- Developing treatment plans for diagnosed inmates
- Prescribing medications as needed (psychiatrists only)
- Providing one on one therapy to inmates
- Assisting prison management in developing mental health strategies for the facility
- Facilitating group therapy sessions
There are no special education requirements or professional associations for psychiatrists or psychologists who work in correctional facilities. Professionals who wish to pursue this career will greatly benefit from internships or clinical rotations in prisons. Psychiatrists who work in prisons have earned an MD at a minimum. Psychologists in this field have earned a PhD or a PsyD.
Professional athletes face tremendous amounts of stress and anxiety as they are pressured to perform at peak performance in very intense situations. Sports psychologists are hired by professional sports teams (or the athletes themselves) to help athletes overcome their mental hurdles for peak performance. Job duties in this field include:
- Working one on one with athletes to determine mental blocks
- Developing and teaching strategies to overcome mental hurdles
- Providing counseling and coaching related to athletic performance
- Performing frequent evaluations to asses athletes mental and emotional state
- Providing workshops related to athletic mental health performance for teams
- Assisting athletes in managing stress and anxiety on and off the job
- Collaborating with other staff including nutritionists, general managers, owners, and trainers
- Keeping detailed medical records
Sports psychologists have earned a PhD in psychology or a PsyD. Often there is additional education completed in kinesiology or athletic training. Professionals in this field benefit greatly from earning a certification through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).
Occupational (Industrial) Health Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Workplaces can be stressful places and many employees do not work at their full potential because of it. Psychologists and psychiatrists who work in the field of occupational health are concerned with work, work performance, how organizations function, and group behavior. They work primarily in large companies and in government agencies, although they can also frequently be found working as consultants. Job duties include:
- Assessing workplace performance
- Administering personality tests or mental health evaluations to employees
- Writing reports for upper management on findings
- Providing recommendations to improve work performance and employee mental health
- Implementing programs improving workplace performance and employee satisfaction
- Routinely monitoring key workplace metrics to ensure programs implemented are working
Psychologists who work in occupational health have earned a PsyD degree or a PhD in psychology. While pursuing their degree, they may focus their research on occupational health, businesses, and employees. Psychiatrists in this field have earned an MD with clinical rotations specifically targeting workplace mental health.
While there are no specific occupational health psychology or psychiatry associations or certifications, professionals in this field can join the American Psychological Association (APA) or the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Instead of looking at dysfunction or mental illness, humanistic psychologists focus on helping clients fulfill their goals and live well by emphasizing free will and self-actualization. With a fundamental belief that people are good and capable of living their best life, humanistic psychologists coach clients towards personal agency and the ability to be who they want to be. Job duties for humanistic psychologists entail:
- Meeting one on one with clients
- Educating clients about concepts such as free will, the hierarchy of needs, empathy, unconscious motivations, and unconditional positive regard
- Coaching clients on how to apply humanistic concepts to everyday life
- Keeping detailed client records
- Developing strong rapport with clients as this therapeutic process can take months or even years
Humanistic psychologists have earned a PhD in psychology or a PsyD. As part of their studies, they have typically spent extensive time learning about Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers’ teaching and how to apply them to help clients live to their full potential.
Several institutes around the country offer certificate programs in humanistic psychology for professionals seeking more specific education. The Association For Humanistic Psychology (AHP) is the professional organization for psychologists in this field.
Military (Veteran) Psychologist or Psychiatrist
Individuals who serve in the armed forces are not exempt from mental health disorders. In fact, because of the demands of the military, being away from family, and the trauma of war zones, psychologists and psychiatrists are an essential part of military healthcare. Mental healthcare for soldiers doesn’t end when they are discharged, which is why the Veteran’s Administration employs psychologists and psychiatrists as well. Job duties of military psychologist and psychiatrist include:
- Administering personality tests to new recruits
- Evaluating mental health of active-duty soldiers
- Diagnosing mental health disorders
- Developing treatment plans to treat soldier’s mental health disorders
- Providing counseling and support during debriefing at the end of tours of duty
- Conducting research on and develop new treatments for PTSD and trauma
- Educating clients and the public on the dangers of suicide amongst soldiers and veterans
Active duty psychologists and psychiatrists earn their degree prior to joining the service. Students may apply for the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) to cover the cost of a psychology doctorate or a medical degree in psychiatry. The professional association for military psychologists is the Society for Military Psychology and the one for military psychiatrists is the Society of Uniformed Services Psychiatrists (SUSP).
Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.