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Learn the Difference Between a Career in Psychology and Psychiatry

All too often, the work of psychiatrists and psychologists gets mixed up or confused. After all, both careers are medical, require extensive education and training, pay well and study the human brain. In practice, however, the two fields are very different.

Quick Facts: Psychology Industry
Median Pay:   $114,296 per year | $55 per hour
Entry-Level Education:   Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience:   None
Number of Jobs, 2014:   199,000

Psychology Occupations:

  • Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists$68,900
  • Psychologists, all other$92,110
  • Psychiatrists$181,880

If you are seriously thinking about pursuing either psychology or psychiatry as a career, then it is important to understand all of the differences between the two professions. Find out more about how psychiatrists and psychologists vary when it comes to salary, predicted job market growth, licenses, educational prerequisites, typical daily jobs, characteristics and more.

Educational Requirements for Psychologists

In order to become a professional in this field, the absolute bare minimum is a master's degree. However, psychologists who want to work in research, clinical trials and even counseling typically earn a doctorate in their subject in order to secure the best jobs and command the highest salaries.

At the undergraduate level, a psychologist's formal education starts with a bachelor's degree of some kind. At this point, any medical or scientific major is typically adequate, as it will serve as a solid base for either a master's degree or the much more common Ph.D.

The full education for psychologists can take as long as nine years, which combines both graduates and undergraduate courses, but that may include opportunities for paid clinical or research work as well as a medical internship for an average of one year.

To better fit this education into a busy schedule, many people opt to earn their degrees online rather than through a traditional college campus program.

Educational Requirements for Psychiatrists

In many ways, the educational requirements for psychiatrists follows the same trajectory as for psychologists. It all starts with an undergraduate degree, which will typically be a four-year bachelor's degree in a subject like chemistry, biology or mathematics.

Rather than earning a doctorate at this point, however, psychiatrists will need to take the MCATs, or Medical College Admission Test, and then attend medical school. Rather than coming after the study of the human brain and behavior from a research perspective, psychiatrists look at the chemical and biological factors that influence behavior, feelings and actions.

Necessary Licenses and Certifications for Both Careers

Both psychologists and psychiatrists need specific licenses and certifications before they are allowed to work in any professional capacity within their field.

Psychologists require registration within their state, and this includes passing the Examination for Professional Practice. This exam also allows psychologists to certify in a specialty should they desire, and these specialties might include clinical health, rehabilitation or psychoanalysis.

Psychiatrists also need to be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, or ABPN, before they can practice in their field. They will also need to take and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination in order to become licensed medical practitioners within their state of employment.

Comparing Salaries for Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Salaries for both psychiatrists and psychologists can be lucrative in the United States, but psychiatrists have a clear advantage in this area.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for psychologists in the United States is $69,280, with the highest salaries going toward those working in industrial organization.

On the other hand, the BLS reports that psychiatrists in the United States earn a median salary of $173,330, which is more than twice as much as psychologists.

If salary is a major motivator when choosing between the two careers, there is one obvious choice for potential students and professionals.

Major Day to Day Differences Between the Two Careers

Interestingly, the day to day tasks of both psychologists and psychiatrists can be very similar depending on the location where they work.

Counseling psychologists might meet with private clients, and research psychologists might conduct studies to learn more about human behavior.

Psychiatrists might tackle the very same challenges, but they may focus on medicinal approaches to change brain chemistry and resolve problems in that way rather than through discussion or verbal therapy.

Job Growth Predictions in Both Fields

Another big factor to consider when choosing a future profession is the predicted job growth for the future. Jobs that are forecast to experience a big increase in demand, particularly above the national average for careers, allow those within the field to have greater job security and the potential for better salaries.

The BLS predicts that psychologists will see a 12% increase in job demand over the next decade, which is just about average for careers in the United States.

Job growth for psychiatrists is slower at just 5%, but there is still the potential to find a suitable career in the field.

Characteristics of Successful Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Whether you decide to become a psychiatrist or a psychologist, there are a few key characteristics common in both fields that often translate to a successful career.

Observation skills are among the most important, as professionals need to be able to notice changes in patients even when they are not obvious or verbalized. Other key traits that can be found among successful psychiatrists and psychologists are things like great organization, critical thinking skills, excellent communication abilities verbally as well as in writing, patience and compassion.

Work Environments for Both Professions

Another way that the two careers can be compared and contrasted is when it comes to working environments.

For the most part, psychiatrists will work in either hospitals or residential care facilities. Only a small number of professionals in this industry worked in private practices or as self-employed individuals.

Psychologists, on the other hand, have a greater variety of work environments to choose from. Some may work in schools, in healthcare facilities, in private practices or in hospitals.

While there are certainly a number of similarities between the two professions, psychiatrists and psychologists have two distinct careers. Whichever option sounds like the best fit for your future career goals, earning a bachelor's degree in the field of psychology will be the first step on your way to success.