4 answers

Should I study psychology or psychiatry?

Asked Oakland, California

4 answers

Linda Ann’s Answer

Updated

Well, you cannot study psychiatry at the undergraduate level. To become a psychiatrist, you graduate with a BS in one of the life sciences or psychology, attend medical school and then for your residency and fellowship, study psychiatry. So you are looking at about 9 years of schooling post-high school. You of course need to pass licensing laws to practice as either an MD or DO.


Psychologists cannot practice without licensure and supervision by another licensed psychologist. It requires the completion of a PhD or PsyD which generally takes 5 years beyond the bachelor's degree. So the time in school and preparation for an eventual profession is the same for psychology as it is for psychiatry! Getting into a graduate program in psychology is highly competitive.


Psychiatrists today are generally NOT trained in talk therapy. They prescribe medications for their clients and monitor blood work with follow-up appointments. Note that only about 1/3 of psychologists are clinical or counseling psychologists, i.e., ones who engage in talk therapy. Psychology is a diverse field.

Linda Ann recommends the following next steps:

  • Go to the website of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Explore the course work that you need to have completed to be successful on the MCAT. All medical schools require MCAT scores and personal interviews before you can study to become a medical doctor (whether aleopathic- MD or osteopathic- DO)
  • Go to the website of the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org) and explore the diversity of work that psychologists engage in. Go to each "division" and read about the nature of the work of many different psychologists.

ROBIN’s Answer

Updated Lake City, Colorado

The above information is excellent regarding the differences in training. Think ahead to the type of work you may enjoy full-time. Psychiatrists are spending most the their day if not 100% with short visits to follow-up on medications they prescribe, and of course, intake or diagnostic interviews to determine an appropriate treatment plan for their patients which typically involves psychotropic medications. The work of a psychologist in a clinical setting with mostly be diagnostic interviews, individual psychotherapy, group therapy, and perhaps assessment in 45-minute blocks of time. Psychologist refer to psychiatrists for those patients who may benefit from a combination of therapy and medication(s), and psychiatrists will refer to psychologists for assessments/evaluations for more information on differential diagnosis and treatment planning. Psychologists may also be involved with marriage counseling and family therapy.


We have been in private practice of Clinical Psychology for for more than 30 years and have seen many change through the years. There is a great need for mental health practitioners and I hope you find the best path for you in planning your future.

Michael’s Answer

Updated Seattle, Washington

If you are considering clinical psychology, they do coincide in terms of treating mental illness. But the training for psychiatry is in medical school vs. clinical psychology in psychology graduate school.

G. Mark’s Answer

Updated

It depends entirely on your personal goals. In general, a psychologist studies psychology, but a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who also studies psychology and even the biology and biochemistry of the brain. So a psychiatrist needs to go through all the training required to be an MD. My advice is to dig into the classes and see how you like them. If a career in medicine is your cup of tea, and you're willing to put in all the tremendous time and effort, go for it. No matter how far you take it, it will not be time wasted.