Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference in Careers?

So, are you thinking about becoming a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist? Or maybe you are confused about their differences? Are you interested in helping people with their mental health? Psychology is an interesting field to study because you will learn a lot about how humans think, behave, and make decisions. This is a broad field in which you can specialise. Let’s explore the differences between these two professions and the paths to becoming a Psychologist or Psychiatrist.

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The Difference Between a Psychologist and Psychiatrist

While Psychologists and Psychiatrists both work in the field of mental health, their roles and approaches differ significantly. The key difference lies in their educational backgrounds. Psychiatry is a medical field where professionals can prescribe medication, whereas a psychologist is not a medical doctor but rather experts in human behaviour.

Fun Fact about Psychology:

Did you know that our brain continues to develop until around the age of 25? This means that during adolescence and early adulthood, our brains are still undergoing significant changes and maturation. The frontal lobe, responsible for higher cognitive functions such as decision-making, impulse control, and judgement, is one of the last areas of the brain to fully develop. This process, known as “synaptic pruning,” involves the elimination of unnecessary neural connections while strengthening important ones.

As a result, adolescents and young adults often exhibit certain behaviours such as impulsivity, risk-taking, and difficulty with decision-making. This is because their frontal lobes are still under construction. The prefrontal cortex, located in the frontal lobe, plays a crucial role in decision-making and weighing the consequences of our actions. As it continues to develop, individuals become more adept at making thoughtful, rational choices.

So, if you’re in your late teens or early twenties and find yourself grappling with indecisiveness, take assurance in knowing that it’s a normal part of your brain’s ongoing development. As your frontal lobe continues to mature, give yourself time and patience when it comes to exploring your options and making informed decisions.

What Does a Psychologist Do?

Psychologists focus on understanding mental processes, human behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. They use various therapeutic approaches to promote mental health and well-being. These are the list of what a psychologist usually do:

  • Assess and diagnose psychological disorders.
  • Conduct psychotherapy and counselling sessions to help individuals overcome challenges and develop coping strategies.
  • Perform psychological assessments to evaluate cognitive abilities, personality traits, and emotional functioning.
  • Conduct research to contribute to the advancement of psychological knowledge.

How Do You Become a Psychologist?

Becoming a Psychologist requires dedicated education and training. These are the general steps to pursue a career in psychology:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.
  2. Pursue a graduate degree in psychology, typically a Master’s Degree, Ph.D. or Psy.D. program.
    Some universities offer a straight Bachelor’s degree with a Master’s degree. This is helpful particularly if you are certain about your future career path in these fields.
  3. Gain practical experience through internships, supervised clinical work, or research.
  4. Obtain licensure or certification according to your country’s requirements.
  5. Consider specialising in a specific area of psychology through further education or post-doctoral training.

What to Expect When Studying Psychology

Studying psychology involves a deep dive into the human mind and behaviour. Be prepared for extensive reading, conducting research, and exploring various theories and methodologies. There are usually two different degrees involved in this field; Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) and Bachelor of Arts (BA). The Bachelor of Science focuses on science and maths, while Bachelor of Arts is centered around humanities. A degree in science is a great option if you aspire to become a medical doctor, and pursuing a degree in art is a great option if you are planning to study law. Both degrees provide suitable pathways to becoming a Psychologist. Psychology students often analyse case studies, engage in group discussions, and participate in practical exercises to enhance their understanding of psychological concepts.

What is a Psychiatrist?

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specialises in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of mental illnesses. Psychiatrists approach mental health from a medical perspective, combining therapy with medication when necessary. This role requires a high level of emotional intelligence, where professionals can demonstrate empathy, compassion, and a commitment to providing the best possible care. Furthermore, analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills are essential for Psychiatrists as they will often need to develop effective treatment plans for patients encountering a variety of challenges.

What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

  • Diagnose mental disorders by conducting thorough psychiatric evaluations.
  • Prescribe medication to address biological and chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Provide therapy and counselling, often in conjunction with medication management.
  • Collaborate with psychologists, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to offer comprehensive treatment.

How Do You Become a Psychiatrist?

Pursuing a career as a psychiatrist requires an intensive educational journey that follows these general steps:

  1. Complete a Bachelor’s degree with a strong emphasis on pre-medical coursework.
  2. Attend medical school to obtain a medical degree (M.D. or D.O.).
  3. Engage in specialised training during residency in Psychiatry, typically lasting four years depending on the curriculum of university.
  4. Acquire licensure or certification as a Psychiatrist in your country.
  5. Consider pursuing fellowships or further specialisation in areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, or geriatric psychiatry.

Top Universities to Study Psychology*

Harvard University
University of Oxford
University of Cambridge
Stanford University
University of College London
Yale University
Columbia University

University of Cambridge

Top Universities to Study Psychiatry*

Harvard University
University of Oxford
Stanford University
John Hopkins University
University of Cambridge
University College London
Karolinska Institutet

Oxford University

*Based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023

Pursue the Educational Journey

Understanding the distinctions between Psychologists and Psychiatrists is crucial for prospective students considering a career in the field of mental health. Both professions play vital roles in promoting mental well-being and addressing psychological challenges, but they differ in their approaches and educational paths.

Choosing between these two paths depends on your interests, career goals, and desired scope of practice. Browse the Global Admissions platform to find and apply for psychology or psychiatry programs abroad. Our team of student advisors are always available to assist over a free call to discuss your options.

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