Commencement - May 3 & 4

Plan for your visit to campus to celebrate your graduate. All event details are located HERE

There are many people that think psychiatrists and psychologists are one and the same. While both are types of mental health professionals, there are distinct differences between the two. If you are considering a career in mental health, you will want to know more about which path is right for you. 


Understanding Both Psychiatry and Psychology 

Psychiatry and psychology are two professions closely related. Both fields center around mental health, including diagnosing mental health disorders and developing treatment plans to help individuals manage their symptoms or conditions. However, there are distinct differences between the fields of psychiatry and psychology, revolving around the fact that psychiatrists are medical doctors and psychologists are not. 

H3: The Science of Psychology 

According to the National Library of Medicine, psychology is a science that focuses on emotional development, behavioral patterns and overall mental health. Students who pursue a degree in psychology will begin to learn about cognitive behaviors and which types of factors may influence an individual's overall mental health. In addition, they will study the best therapeutic techniques and therapies to address symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. 

The Medical Field of Psychiatry 

Psychiatry is a specialized branch of the medical field, and psychiatrists often take into consideration the biological factors that will contribute to mental health conditions and disorders. Like psychologists, psychiatrists will use therapy and other holistic treatment options for their patients, but they can also prescribe medications for clients suffering from mental health disorders. 

Educational Pathways: Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist 

The educational pathway to becoming a psychiatrist is more involved than psychology, largely because psychiatrists are medical doctors who must complete medical school. Understanding the educational requirements and additional training will help you determine which mental health profession is right for you. 

Training Required for a Psychologist 

Before you can begin working directly with clients and providing them with counseling or other therapeutic services, you will have to undergo a significant amount of training. BLS reports the educational pathway to becoming a psychologist includes: 

  • Earning a bachelor's degree in psychology. Choosing an accredited degree program from a reputable university will help you develop the foundation needed to practice in this field. 
  • Earning a master's degree. If you are interested in specializing in a particular area of psychology, such as child psychology, clinical psychology or forensic psychology, you should pursue a graduate degree in psychology. 
  • Completing a doctoral degree. If you are planning to open your own psychology practice, you will need to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology. 
  • Earning professional experience. Before becoming a licensed psychologist, you will need to complete an internship program to earn professional experience in the field. By working in a clinical setting, you will be able to hone the skills needed to work directly with patients. 
  • Becoming licensed and certified. Most states require psychologists to be licensed, and additional certifications can prove to your clients that you are qualified to provide exceptional and personalized care. 

Educational Journey of a Psychiatrist 

The educational journey of a psychiatrist is a bit more extensive, because psychiatrists are licensed medical professionals. The educational pathway to becoming a psychiatrist includes: 

  • Earning a bachelor's degree in a related field. While some aspiring psychiatrists select a pre-med degree, a bachelor's degree in psychology is also a worthwhile option. 
  • Completing medical school. After earning your bachelor's degree, you will need to apply to medical schools and complete your medical degree. 
  • Completing your residency in psychiatry. After graduating with your medical degree, you will need to complete a four-year residency program in the field of psychiatry to gain relevant experience with psychiatric patients. 
  • Completing a fellowship. While optional, most psychiatrists opt to complete a fellowship to specialize in a niche aspect of psychiatry, such as child psychiatry or forensic psychiatry. 

Differing Practices: Psychiatrist and Psychologist 

The scope of practice between a psychiatrist and a psychologist varies significantly, largely because psychiatrists can prescribe medication and psychologists cannot. 

Typical Practices of a Psychologist 

Psychologists may work in a clinical or office setting, and they primarily consult directly with their clients and, in some cases, their family members, friends or relatives. Your Health in Mind states psychologists work primarily with patients whose mental health disorders or conditions can be treated with psychotherapy, such as anxiety, depression, grief or addiction. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics notes their primary responsibilities include: 

  • Observing the behavior of their clients and completing relevant research to help formulate an effective treatment plan. 
  • Identifying symptoms of mental health disorders and providing a diagnosis when necessary. 
  • Identifying and evaluating patterns of behavior that may need to be addressed. 
  • Creating treatment plans designed to address the unique needs of the individual. 
  • Conducting individual or group therapy sessions in accordance with the designated treatment plan. 

Common Practices of a Psychiatrist 

Psychiatrists are medical professionals who may work in hospitals, medical practices, or clinical settings. Typically, psychiatrists work with patients suffering from more significant, complex, or severe mental health conditions, and they often rely on medication to help treat their patients. 

The primary responsibilities of psychiatrists include: 

  • Evaluating patients by conducting laboratory and medical tests to identify the symptoms and causes of a mental health disorder. 
  • Comparing both medical and psychological data to develop a comprehensive understanding of the patient's condition. 
  • Developing a multi-faceted treatment plan that may include prescription medication, talk therapy or other interventions. 

Key Differences in Treatment Methods 

Due to the differences in their training and their specializations in the field of mental health, psychiatrists and psychologists do not rely on the same types of treatment methods. 

Treatment Techniques Psychologists Use 

Psychologists focus primarily on psychotherapy, often relying on a combination of techniques and strategies to address the individual needs of their clients. Some of the most common psychological treatment techniques include: 

  • Psychoanalysis 
  • Behavior Therapy 
  • Cognitive Therapy 
  • Integrative Therapy 

Treatment Techniques Psychiatrists Use 

Psychiatrists can diagnose mental health disorders and treat patients with prescription medication, which has a significant impact on the types of treatment techniques that they use. The  American Psychiatric Association affirms psychiatrists often use prescription medication in combination with psychotherapy to provide patients with a comprehensive care plan. 

Collaboration Between Psychiatrists and Psychologists 

While there are several key differences between psychiatrists and psychologists, these mental health professionals often work collaboratively to provide their patients and clients with the best possible care. 

When and Why Collaboration Occurs 

Collaboration between psychologists and psychiatrists often occurs when a psychologist feels that their patient could benefit from more advanced treatment, which may include prescription medication. These mental health professionals are often willing to work together to prevent, diagnose and treat mental health disorders in an individual patient. 

Benefits of Collaboration in Patient Care 

Collaborative mental health care can be incredibly beneficial, especially for patients suffering from anxiety, depression, grief, or another type of mental health condition. Some of the benefits of collaboration in patient care include: 

  • Being able to provide patients with more individualized care that includes all the elements that they need to stay healthy and feel well. 
  • Being able to rely on the expertise of others to develop a more well-rounded understanding of the mental health field. 
  • Being able to connect patients with valuable resources in the community that you may not otherwise have been aware of. 

Career Opportunities in Psychology and Psychiatry 

The BLS expects there to be consistent, strong growth in the field of mental health, largely because there has been a societal awakening on the importance of mental health and the critical role that effective mental health care can have in both individuals and groups. As a result, there are many career opportunities to consider in both the fields of psychology and psychiatry. 

Potential Career Paths for Psychologists 

Psychologists can work in a variety of settings, giving you the opportunity to pursue a wide range of career opportunities. Some potential career paths for psychologists include: 

  • Community Psychologists 
  • Counseling Psychologists 
  • Child Psychologists 
  • Substance Abuse Counselors 
  • School Psychologists 
  • Forensic Psychologists 
  • Health Psychologists 

Potential Career Paths for Psychiatrists 

Like psychologists, psychiatrists can pursue a wide range of career opportunities based on their professional interests and chosen specializations. Psychiatrists may practice in private practice, hospital settings, research centers, hospice centers, schools and more. 

Some career opportunities for psychiatrists include: 

  • Emergency Psychiatrist 
  • Researcher 
  • Child Psychiatrist 
  • Military Psychiatrist 
  • Neurodevelopmental Psychiatrist 
  • Forensic Psychiatrist 

How Does One Decide When to Seek Help From a Psychiatrist or Psychologist? 

Mental health disorders are incredibly common. In fact, according to Mental Health America, more than 50 million American adults experience the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, with approximately five percent of those individuals experiencing severe mental illness. 

Knowing when to seek help or to encourage others to get help is critical to battling the mental health crisis in America. These are some signs and symptoms that someone may benefit from the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist: 

  • You do not feel that you can effectively manage your feelings and emotions. 
  • You experience excessive fear or anxiety, and it prevents you from wanting to take part in your daily life. 
  • You feel sad or depressed on a regular basis, and you have a hard time doing what you once enjoyed. 
  • You are not eating or sleeping like normal. 
  • You feel isolated and alone, and you have withdrawn from your normal social groups. 
  • You are engaging in risky behavior on a regular basis. 
  • You are relying heavily on alcohol or other illicit substances to cope. 
  • You have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

Making the Choice: Psychiatrist or Psychologist? 

Ultimately, deciding to pursue a career in psychiatry or psychology will come down to your personal interests and your professional career goals. If you are more interested in the biological factors that influence mental health, and you feel compelled to work in a clinical setting, then psychiatry may be the right field for you. If you feel more drawn to work directly with clients and develop ongoing relationships with them, then you may be more well-suited to a career in psychology. 

Prepare For Your Career in Mental Health at University of the Cumberlands 

At University of the Cumberlands, you can enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program that will provide you with a strong foundation in the field of psychology. With the knowledge and skills gained through this online degree program, you will be qualified to pursue a wide range of career opportunities in the field of mental health. 

Request more information about our online degree programs today.