Key highlights 

  • Psychiatrists need to attend medical school and train for about 12 years before they can practice. 
  • Psychologists have to pursue a graduate degree (doctoral or master’s), which can take up to 10 years.
  • Psychiatrists prescribe medications as part of their treatment plan, while psychologists don’t. 

Both psychiatrists and psychologists focus on helping people deal with mental health problems. Their approaches, however, are different. While psychologists offer counseling and therapy, psychiatrists go a step further by prescribing medications as a part of their treatment plan. Let’s dive deeper into psychiatry vs. psychology and list out what each profession entails.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed medical school and specialized in psychiatry. They hold a license to prescribe medication as part of their treatment. Psychiatrists also use psychotherapy, psychosocial interventions, and other treatments to address the mental and emotional well-being of their patients. 

Psychologists do not go to medical school, nor can they prescribe medications in their treatment plans. Psychologists who hold a master’s or doctoral degree and licensure can provide counseling sessions that focus on exploring and addressing the psychological and emotional aspects of their client’s lives. Psychologists use various therapeutic techniques, such as talk therapy and behavioral interventions, to help individuals cope with challenges, improve mental well-being, and develop healthier patterns of thinking and behavior.

Both psychiatry and psychology offer specialization options but psychology offers a wider range of specializations that can open doors to jobs across industries. 

Both psychiatrists and psychologists undergo comprehensive training so that they can build the specialized skills required to perform their required duties. Both of these professions focus on different treatment approaches, so the educational training they receive differs widely. Here is a glimpse into the educational requirements for both of these professions.

How to Become a Psychiatrist 

Psychiatrists need specialized training and skills so that they can effectively treat people’s mental health, including using medical interventions. Since their work is critical and often complex, they have to undergo extensive training. Becoming a psychiatrist can take you about 12 years to complete. 

Here is how you become a psychiatrist:

1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree:

   – Start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, biology, or pre-medical studies. It’s important to maintain a strong GPA and take courses that fulfill medical school prerequisites.

2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT):

   – The MCAT is a standardized test that assesses your knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and your ability to problem-solve and think critically. A competitive score is essential for medical school admission.

3. Attend Medical School:

   – Enroll in a medical school to pursue a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. Medical school typically takes four years and combines classroom learning with clinical rotations.

4. Complete Residency Training in Psychiatry:

   – After earning a medical degree, aspiring psychiatrists must complete a residency in psychiatry, which usually takes four years. During this time, residents gain practical experience in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders under the supervision of experienced psychiatrists.

5. Obtain Licensure:

   – After completing residency, individuals must obtain a medical license to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally involve passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) if you’ve taken an MD. For DO holders, you will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX).

6. Consider Board Certification:

   – While board certification is optional, it can enhance your credentials and job opportunities. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) offers certification in psychiatry.

7. Subspecialty (Optional):

   – Some psychiatrists choose to pursue fellowships to specialize in areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, or geriatric psychiatry.

8. Maintain Continuing Education:

   – Psychiatrists must engage in ongoing professional development to stay abreast of the latest research and treatments in the field. This may involve attending conferences, workshops, or pursuing additional certifications.

How to Become a Psychologist

Becoming a psychologist can take you up to 10 years. You will have to undergo a rigorous curriculum that will prepare you to effectively understand and address various aspects of human behavior and mental processes, ensuring a comprehensive foundation for your future career in psychology.

Here are the steps to becoming a psychologist: 

1. Educational Requirements:

   – Bachelor’s Degree: Start by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. It’s important to take courses that cover core topics in psychology.

   – Graduate Education: Pursue a graduate degree in psychology. Most psychologists have at least a master’s degree, but many positions, especially in clinical or counseling psychology, require a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.).

2. Graduate School Options:

   – Master’s Degree: If you choose to pursue a master’s degree, it typically takes 2-3 years to complete. This degree may lead to certain positions, such as a school psychologist or an industrial-organizational psychologist.

   – Doctoral Degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.): A doctoral degree is required for most practicing psychologists. Ph.D. programs typically emphasize research, while Psy.D. programs focus more on clinical practice. Doctoral programs generally take 5-7 years to complete.

3. Specialization and Licensure:

   – Choose a specialization: Psychologists can specialize in various areas, such as clinical, counseling, school, industrial-organizational, or research psychology.

   – Obtain licensure: Licensure requirements vary by state, but in most cases, you’ll need to complete an internship or supervised practice, accumulate a certain number of postdoctoral hours, and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

4. Gain Practical Experience:

   – As part of your graduate program, you’ll likely need to complete a supervised internship or practicum. This practical experience is crucial for developing the skills required in the field.

5. Postdoctoral Experience:

   – In some states, psychologists are required to complete a period of postdoctoral supervised experience before becoming fully licensed.

6. Professional Certification:

   – While not always required, obtaining professional certification from organizations such as the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) can enhance your credibility and career prospects.

7. Continuing Education:

   – Maintain your licensure by participating in continuing education. Many states require psychologists to regularly update their skills and knowledge.

Remember that the specific requirements may vary by state, so it’s important to check with the licensing board in the state where you plan to practice. Additionally, staying informed about any changes in licensure requirements is crucial throughout your career.

Related: Careers with a Bachelor’s in Psychology.

Choosing between psychiatry and psychology depends on your interests, career goals, and the type of work you find most fulfilling. Here are some factors to consider:


1. Medical Approach: If you are interested in the medical aspects of mental health, including the use of medications to treat mental illnesses, psychiatry might be a better fit. Psychiatrists are medical doctors and can prescribe medications.

2. Holistic Understanding: Psychiatrists undergo extensive medical training, providing them with a comprehensive understanding of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of mental health.

3. Diagnosis and Medication: If you want to be directly involved in diagnosing mental disorders and managing treatment plans that may include medication, psychiatry is the path to consider.

4. Versatility: Psychiatrists can work in various settings, such as hospitals, clinics, private practices, and research institutions. They may also specialize in areas like child psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, or addiction psychiatry.


1. Behavioral Science: If you are more interested in understanding human behavior, emotions, and cognition from a behavioral science perspective, psychology might be a better fit.

2. Therapeutic Approaches: Psychologists focus on providing therapy and counseling using various therapeutic approaches. If you’re passionate about helping individuals through talk therapy and behavioral interventions, psychology could be the right choice.

3. Education and Research: If you enjoy research and want to contribute to the field through studies and academic work, psychology offers opportunities for advanced research with a doctoral degree.

4. No Medication Prescribing: Psychologists do not prescribe medications. If you prefer a non-medication approach to treatment, psychology aligns with providing therapy without medication management. Psychologists often work in tandem with psychiatrists if their patients also need medication.

5. Diverse Specializations: Psychologists can specialize in various areas, including clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology, allowing you to tailor your career to your specific interests.

Consider shadowing professionals in both fields, exploring coursework, and gaining exposure to each discipline to help inform your decision.

The pay and job outlook for psychiatry and psychology can vary based on factors such as education, experience, specialization, and location. Here’s an overview of the general trends:


1. Pay:

   – Psychiatrists typically earn a higher salary compared to psychologists. This is often due to their extensive medical training and the ability to prescribe medication.

   – The average salary for a psychiatrist is $259,888 per year, which is significantly higher than that for psychologists.

2. Job Outlook:

   – The demand for psychiatrists is expected to grow by 7% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than average. This growth can be attributed to an increased recognition of the importance of mental health and a growing population that may require mental health services.

   – Psychiatrists can work in various settings, including hospitals, private practices, and community mental health clinics.


1. Pay:

   – The average salary for a psychologist is $105,039 per year. Psychologists’ salaries can vary widely based on factors such as their level of education, experience, and specialization. Clinical psychologists, for example, often earn competitive salaries.

   – Compared to psychiatrists, psychologists may generally have a lower median salary, but this can vary based on the specific area of psychology and the level of education.

2. Job Outlook:

 – The job outlook for psychologists is generally positive, with a projected growth rate of 6 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations, with growth expected in various specialties. The demand for mental health services continues to increase, leading to a need for psychologists in clinical, counseling, and school settings.

   – Opportunities for psychologists can be found in business, private practice, healthcare institutions, schools, and research institutions.

Points to consider:

Education Level: Psychologists typically need a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) for clinical practice, while psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs or DOs) with additional specialized training.

– Prescribing Medication: Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, giving them a unique role in mental health treatment. Psychologists do not have this capability.

– Specialization: Both fields offer opportunities for specialization, and the demand for certain specialties may influence job prospects and earning potential.

It’s important to note that specific salary figures and job outlook can vary based on factors such as geographic location, experience, and changes in the healthcare landscape. 

The choice between psychology and psychiatry depends on you. Consider your own strengths, interests, and career preferences. Some may find fulfillment in the holistic and non-pharmacological approaches of psychology, while others may be drawn to the clinical and medical aspects offered by psychiatry. It’s also worth noting that psychology and psychiatry often work together, and collaboration between psychologists and psychiatrists is common in mental health settings.  

Both psychology and psychiatry contribute significantly to our understanding of mental health, and both play essential roles in helping individuals lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. The key is to align your choice with your passion, skills, and the impact you hope to make in the realm of mental health.

Can a psychologist prescribe medication?

No, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists typically focus on providing talk therapy and other non-pharmacological interventions to address mental health issues.

Do psychiatrists perform therapy?

Yes, psychiatrists can and often do perform therapy. While their primary focus is on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses with medication, many psychiatrists also offer therapy sessions as part of a comprehensive treatment approach.