There are several differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.  The two hallmark differences involve training and approach to treatment.


Usually, a psychologist has a Ph.D.  In order to obtain a Ph.D., you must first have a bachelor’s degree after attending a four-year university.  Often times, the psychologist has majored in Psychology or studied a related field.  Thus, the psychologist has a four-year bachelor’s degree in a certain area, usually a field related to Psychology.

The psychologist then must apply and be accepted to graduate school.  The psychologist must determine if he or she will pursue a master’s degree separate to the Ph.D., or obtain a master’s degree on the way to getting the Ph.D. in the same program.  In a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program, for example, a psychologist usually enters the program immediately after obtaining the four year bachelor’s degree.  They get the master’s degree on the way to the Ph.D.

In Counseling Psychology, the psychologist first obtains a master’s degree in counseling or related field.  The psychologist usually studies for two to three years to obtain a master’s degree, which is much longer than many other master’s degrees in other fields.  At the end of the master’s degree program, the psychologist usually must write a master’s thesis, or related paper.

The psychologist then must apply for a separate Ph.D. program, which can take around 5 or more years.  There are certain Ph.D. programs which have been approved by the American Psychological Association (APA).  Obtaining entrance to an APA approved Ph.D. program is very competitive, and graduating from an APA approved program is prestigious.  After completing coursework, the psychologist must obtain an internship where he or she works for a year.  There are limited APA approved internships, and being chosen for one is extremely difficult and competitive.  At the end of the doctoral program, the psychologist must write a dissertation.  A dissertation is a study that the psychologist conducts and writes about, usually in the form of a book.  This represents the culmination of work the psychologist has studied.  Prior to being awarded the Ph.D., the psychologist must go before their committee and defend the research.

After completion of the Ph.D., a psychologist can opt to participate in a post-doctoral fellowship or post-doctoral residency.  Usually, this involves a more specialized area of study, such as neuropsychology.  However, even prior to applying to a post-doctoral program, the neuropsychologist usually has already been studying neuropsychology.  Often times the neuropsychologist has worked in the field conducting examinations for another neuropsychologist, been mentored by a neuropsychologist, and studied the neurosciences and neuropsychology.

A neuropsychologist has received training in addition to the training to be a psychologist. The neuropsychologist has studied neuropsychological evaluation, and is skilled in evaluation and diagnoses.

The psychiatrist must also obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree from a university.  Many times the psychiatrist has a bachelor’s degree in Biology or related field.  The psychiatrist many times knows as an undergraduate student working on the bachelor’s degree that he or she wants to go to medical school, but has not yet chosen their field of specialty.  Having a degree in biology many times covers many of the pre-requisite classes for medical school.  The psychiatrist then applies to medical school.  The first two years of medical school often emphasize more classroom work regarding medicine, with the last two years involving more hands on experience treating patients.  After the four years after the bachelor degree, medical school is completed and the psychiatrist has the MD degree.  They must then go on residency to study the specialty of Psychiatry.  A Psychiatry residency is about two years.


When a patient sees a Psychiatrist, it is usually to receive medication to aid in treating the problem that the patient is experiencing.  This may involve the psychiatrist prescribing medication to help treat depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, for example.  Often a psychiatrist also works at psychiatric hospitals to help medicate and stabilize psychiatric patients. A patient going to see a psychiatrist at the office usually sees the psychiatrist about once every three months for follow-up on how the medication or medications are working and if there needs to be a change in dosage or the type of medication.

When a patient sees a Psychologist, they usually receive counseling, or psychotherapy.  Different psychologists have different theoretical orientations, or approaches, to conducting therapy.  Psychologists usually see patients, or clients, once a week for counseling.  However, the psychologist usually does not prescribe medication.  In most states, psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medication.  The psychologist may give information to the psychiatrist or the patient’s regular physician to aid the physician in making medication decisions.

Psychologists often may conduct interview type mental status evaluations with patients to help determine the patient’s diagnosis.  Psychologists often utilize objective measures, or tests, in addition to interview to help with diagnosing a patient.  The neuropsychologist, in addition to testing the person’s psychological status, also uses tests to evaluate cognition, such as memory, intelligence, language and executive functioning.