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What is the difference between Psychology and Psychiatry and how can this difference be a deciding factor in my career?

I'm interested in the mental health aspect of people and I really like listening to people and helping them. To my knowledge, both of these studies deal with helping people and their mental issues however I want to know which one is really about listening, giving advice, and being there to help.

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Melissa’s Answer

I am a therapist and my master's and bachelor's are both in social work. It took me around 5 and a half years because I attended an accelerated program in which my classes ran all year online at 5 weeks each. My master's took me 16 months. This got me to my career fast but I did not necessarily feel like my education prepared me for my career. In my opinion, the classes went by too fast. I feel like I am doing most of my learning now. In my job I do listen, support, and validate others but do not give advice or my opinions. This can be tricky but building rapport and learning what each client needs is important. The hard part can be helping others uncover the root of problems and how problem thinking is contributing. But like the others said, psychiatrists prescribe mediation and go to medical school and a psychologist does a lot of testing but also has a PHD.
Thank you comment icon Wow thank you so much for your wise words! I'll definitely put this to use. Regina
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Michelle’s Answer

Hello, Regina !

Advisor Aditi's advice is very much accurate. The only thing is that Psychologists do not give advice or counseling, they implement psychotherapy or psychoanalysis which is very different from counseling which can mean advice. They create care plans for the patient. You are most likely going to find Psychologists doing a lot of testing on patients and Psychiatrists these days are like evaluators, overseeing how the patient is handling their psychiatric medication and if the patient is or is not taking their medication.

On the other hand, what you describe as your specific career interest falls under the category of Social Worker. They do clinical psychotherapy and sometimes they can even refer out for needed services if they are unable to directly help the patient. For instance, many mental health clinics where Social Workers have their office also have case managers that can set up housing or employment for the patient. It all depends on exactly where you work, what venue and in what capacity. To be a social worker is six years of college plus a certification and licensure. It takes eight to twelve years to become a psychologist and it takes a total of twelve years of college including medical school to be a psychiatrist.

On a very lower level, there is a position of social service Case Manager. Most have four years of college. This is where it's very much about listening, giving advice or counseling (not therapy) and helping clients. There are different levels and venues you can work in, but your salary would be much, much higher if you go for the Social Worker path. Case Managers do an immense amount of work and must be able to work with every population in every circumstance. It's challenging, involving and rewarding. The way to get the best salary for this position is to work in a hospital or medical setting, but there are very few of those positions left as they mostly go to Social Workers now. Case Managers do not do therapy, they do counseling, advocacy, referrals, benefits assistance and expedite anything the client would want or need. Some accompany the client to court, applying for housing and medical appointments. It depends on the actual job description. Also, do not be surprised if you are required to do medication management for your client as a case manager. It happens.

Since you were very clear with your career goal, I would definitely say that you would be an awesome Social Worker. You can major in Social Work for your Bachelors as well as your Masters Degree. Look at some course offerings at your local college to see the array of courses that comprise the Social Work program. I think you would enjoy it and find it fulfilling. Keep asking questions if you have more about this and I wish you all the best !
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much! This is so helpful, I really appreciate you going out of your way to help me. Regina
Thank you comment icon You are very welcome, Regina ! Michelle M.
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Aditi’s Answer

Hi Regina! Props to you for being so thoughtful!

In the simplest terms, of the two, psychiatrists are the medical doctors that can prescribe medications. To become a psychologist, you don't have to go to medical school, typically have to get a doctorate though (phd).

Psychologists tend to be more about human behavior and cognitive processes. A psychologist cannot provide meds, if they have a patient with certain medical conditions, they can (a) provide behavioral management advice (b) provide a referral to a psychiatrist

Is this helpful? Feel free to ask follow up questions!
Thank you comment icon Thank you! You really helped clear up my question. Regina
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Grace’s Answer

Hi Regina,

I won’t repeat what others have already said, but I do want to clarify the fact that psychologists can indeed provide counseling, advice, behavioral health management plans in addition to psychometric testing and analyses, other support, etc. Therapists do indeed counsel & advise as well but the scope of such services is shared with the psychologist.

Please note that there are many sub-specialties of psychology - clinical psychology, developmental/child psychology, organizational psychology - it’s quite an expansive field. Your target population (the people you want to work with e.g. children vs adults vs in an organization vs helping marriages or other relationships, etc. and the setting in which you work (e.g. school system vs clinic or hospital vs a company vs purely research facility, etc.) will determine the exact services you will provide and the amount of time (if any) you will invest in giving counsel and advice. State laws will also play a role in the scope of services provided. So your ability to counsel and give advice to help individuals on a day-to-day basis will depend on the focus/specialty you want to practice and the state in which you practice.

In addition to the information already shared about psychiatry, this field of medicine seeks to understand and treat (both with medications and non-medication therapies) mental illness from the biological perspective (i.e. it attempts to correct or optimize brain and other body chemistries). Psychology on the other hand approaches mental illness mostly from a relational approach ie it seeks to understand how mental illness affects a person’s ability to function and vice versa (for the latter- how things like trauma, neglect, abuse, and other negative situations and/or emotional aberrations can affect a person’s mental health).

Both fields seek to solve the same overall problem, just from different angles (think of the left vs the right hand). Many of the testing metrics, therapy goals, and non-medicinal therapies overlap, and it is not uncommon to have both specialties involved in taking care of a patient (i.e. clinical settings/clinical psychology/psychiatric conditions), along with a social worker and other professionals.

I hope this helps to provide greater clarity! :-)
Thank you comment icon Your advice is really wonderful, but in the state in which I live and through my interaction as a former professional in the mental health and human services field, Social Workers and Psychologists make it very clear that they absolutely do not provide counseling, rather therapy. It just may be a regional thing or something but I spent 27 years working directly in the field and it was an important thing that psych professionals always wanted to make clear. Maybe it's just a matter of definition of words, too. Just wanted to clarify and any student will learn the nuances as they study at their school and region. Thank you. Michelle M.
Thank you comment icon Hi Michelle, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment & concern for the right information to be communicated. I was trying to say that counseling and psychotherapy are within a psychologist’s general scope of practice, but the actual performance of such services is largely dictated by the patient/client demographic & work setting. While they may choose not to perform those services so as to focus on what is most appropriate to their target population, those abilities are generally not outside of their scope of practice. Grace Gana
Thank you comment icon (e.g. Counseling, Marriage & Developmental Psychologists will engage in counseling vs. Clinical Psychologists who would focus more on providing disorder-specific therapy, psychometric testing, etc. As you have stated, state laws do contribute to the scope of these practices, so I’ll be sure to include that when I review and update as necessary my original response. Thanks again! Grace Gana
Thank you comment icon Yes, I agree and I also think it's basically a matter of coding and billing, too. Thank you so much for contributing and have an awesome day, Grace ! Michelle M.
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