Chances are this article should be useless to a psychology student as most courses, even at a pre-university level, would keep note of the differences at your very first lecture. By now you should be bored and weary of seeing “psychiatry is not psychology” articles: this is dedicated for those who might be still sitting on the fence between the two. I will do my best to outline the most important differences between the two professions and some common misunderstandings.
Most psychology programs will have been rushing to get the point across that psychiatry simply is not psychology. Perhaps the steep difference in pay matters a lot? It is rather important distinction to make because for most countries, the paths to be a mental health psychologist and a psychiatrist is vastly different as each spend half a decade in entirely different educational tracks, although both are considered mental health experts.
Psychiatry is deeply rooted in medicine and is ultimately a medical specialization. The student has to obtain a medicine degree for about 5 to 6 years including residency, then only the student gets to specialize in psychiatry which takes a further 4 years. The entire process can take potentially a decade where a psychology student could have completed even their post-doctoral study.
The psychologist’s path way is slightly more relaxed and flexible due to most psychology degrees made to cater for a huge variety of students and specializations (as explored in earlier articles). It would be extremely unfair to expect all psychology students to be well educated in neuroscience and biology and prepared to deal with mental disorders which are complex in roots and treatment. After completing the psychology bachelor’s degree, one can choose to further study in graduate school and can potentially finish in 2 more years in a Masters program. This means that it is possible to be a clinical psychologist with only 5 years of studying although this will greatly differ from country to country. The US, for instance, will require a PhD (minimum 4 years) to be a psychologist and would require 4-6 years of study and training, reducing the gap in study time.
In terms of study content, psychology would focus on psychological theories and research methodology, with some neuroscience studies to provide a biological perspective. As one specializes at postgraduate level, students get to learn much more about abnormal psychology, counseling skills, diagnosis using the DSM, psychopharmacology, and some clinical neuroscience. Medicine track will begin with thorough studying of physiology, drugs, treatment, and symptoms. The work gets even more thorough when one specializes in psychiatry and they will get some degree of psychology education and even get to learn some psychotherapy and counseling techniques. The major techniques employed will range from medication, shock treatments to medicine-free psychotherapy and psychosocial interventions.
Make no mistake that there is a certain amount of rivalry between the two fields due to the differences in upbringing, pay, and approach. It takes lesser amount of study and time to be a psychologist (potentially only requiring 5 years of study, including 3 years of undergraduate study is enough in some countries plus two years in a Masters program, contrast that to the potential decade needed to be a psychiatrist, if you are a medical student you will feel it too!). Meanwhile, psychiatrists receive twice or more the pay of a psychologist (both professions might be dealing with the exact same case) simply for adopting the medical model of treatment. The subtle animosity often happen in between students of the two fields as we try to figure out the intentions of each other pursuing our respective fields. One is probably a field suited for the easy way out, while the other is probably meant for money-minded pill pushers working with the big pharmaceutical corporations and their conspiracies. Go figure.
However, in the actual field during work, both psychiatrists and psychologist have to cooperate meaningfully. The process is very complementary: the psychologist provides (non-medicine) psychotherapy for the client and conducts the diagnosis, after that he or she decides whether to refer the client to a psychiatrist for further diagnosis (it is important to see if both come to the same conclusion) physiological and medical treatment. Also, psychiatrists often have to emphasize on the practice of diagnosis and treating patients through a physiological perspective, putting the responsibility to conduct psychological research and verify findings on the shoulders of psychologists due to their experimental upbringing. This is a grossly simplified two-stage process, but any malfunction on any stage or the interaction could spell disaster for the mental health industry. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to understand the boundaries of each field so that one can decide if they would like to be part of either.
Ultimately, there are points where both fields are contending against each other. In terms of education, both psychology and medical schools will shout about the lack of either profession and how their professions lead to meaningful well paid careers (*coughs*). There is also the fact that clients often do not know who to look for. Those who are more well off will often seek psychiatric help straight away, leaving psychologists with less work on their hands and focusing on other work like counseling or teaching. The reverse also happens, where psychologists continue a great therapeutic relationship with the client but not providing a diagnosis when necessary. Not necessarily a bad thing as visiting only one of the two is obviously going to cost less, but this can create some tension in terms of purpose due to the ambiguity.
Finally, there will be some disagreement on each other’s methodology and approach, which will lead to some heated arguments (what a surprise!). Psychologists often see clients as clients, often begin with a lot of counseling to get a picture of their circumstances, and would discourage the usage of the biomedical model, psychiatrists, generally, see them as patients and would want to get to the roots of the symptoms as soon as possible, and view the psychotherapy approach as time consuming and inefficient. I can spend days writing about this, but…
Really, there are more important things in the world to be upset about.
Common (But Understandable) Misunderstandings
Psychiatrists have bad people skills, low psychological knowledge, and generally do not know psychotherapy
It would be really easy to believe so as there is a certain amount of truth to it, one often hear anecdotes of psychiatrists being mostly pill-pushers: they prescribe the meds, hope that you feel better, and be done with it. But a decade of rigorous training is nothing to underestimate: a lot of the best psychiatrists actually pick up some form of psychotherapy or counseling during their training and learn quite a lot of psychology during the process. Ultimately, very few psychiatrists can pull off the role of being a therapist well, but even the very best psychologists are not going to be perfect, so lets appreciate the fact that some of them took time to learn.
Psychologists have little to no biological and medical knowledge
Again, there may be some truth to this, but that is mostly because in practice not every psychologist is going to need to utilize his or her knowledge in brain science and drugs. The training to attain a postgraduate degree in clinical psychology will require one to study neurological and medical materials to a certain depth, which prepares one for further specialization into psychopharmacology, forensics, or neuroscience.
Also, psychologists that prescribe medicine is a thing now, so if by any chance you find yourself in psychology but still like to prescribe medication, it is by no means impossible.
Ultimately, both professions are fundamentally different in their approaches but are inseparable partners when it comes to the same issues they are concerned about. The training to become any is rigorous and unbelievably competitive in their own ways, and can be rewarding professions. They are some differences in training and income, but these should not be bothering one’s decision to pursue either career too much or change the respect one has for any of them.
What Is Psychiatry?
Psychiatry Salary vs. Psychology
The 9 Highest Paying Psychology Careers
What is the difference between a Psychiatrist, a Clinical Psychologist and a Psychotherapist?
Psychology and Psychiatry.
Retrieved from http://www.guidetopsychology.com/psypsy.htm
The Psychiatrist as Therapist. Psychiatry and Psychotherapy: Still Partners.
Retreived from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shrink-rap-today/201103/the-psychiatrist-therapist
About Prescribing Psychologists.
Retrieved from http://www.apapracticecentral.org/advocacy/authority/prescribing-psychologists.aspx