This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
Psychiatry and psychology are technical terms to refer to different ways of treating mental illness. And yet, they are often used interchangeably in popular culture and in everyday speech. So, it makes sense that many people wonder about the differences between them.
Understanding how psychology and psychiatry differ can be helpful in general for having a better understanding of mental health treatment, especially if you or someone you know is considering seeking help.
Psychiatry is a field that focuses exclusively on mental health disorders. The term “psychiatry,” which comes from Greek, translates as “treatment of the psyche.”
In order to be a practicing psychiatrist, it is necessary to not only complete a degree in higher education (like a bachelor’s degree) but also medical school.
Due to this medical background and training, psychiatrists typically take a more scientific and biological approach to mental health issues. It also means that they are legally allowed to prescribe medication, just like regular doctors.
The term psychology also comes from Greek and translates as “the study of the mind.” It was long considered to be part of general philosophy until the late nineteenth century, when figures such as Jean-Martin Charcot and his student Sigmund Freud treated it as a separate discipline.
Overall, psychology tackles mental health issues by attempting to guide patients through a variety of therapeutic techniques.
Whereas psychiatrists must go to medical school, psychologists do not. Most of them have some kind of degree in psychology, although it is not necessarily required to have one to be a practicing psychologist (depending on where you are located).
Psychiatry and Psychology Differences
People often use psychiatry and psychology so interchangeably that it can be easy to forget that they are quite distinct disciplines. Fortunately, there is helpful guidance available online—in addition to this article—through resources such as BetterHelp.
In short, psychiatry and psychology are similar in that they both focus on treating mental health disorders. And yet, there are some key differences in how they do this.
So, keep reading to discover some of the important differences between psychiatry and psychology.
It takes training and education to become either a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. That said, becoming a psychiatrist is generally much more demanding, since it requires medical school. Since medical school requires at least a bachelor’s, this generally means a minimum of ten to twelve years altogether!
To become a psychologist, there are differing requirements depending on what state or country you’re in and what kind of license you’re looking to obtain. Oftentimes, a bachelor’s degree will suffice, but many psychologists will also have obtained a master’s or PhD.
A key difference between psychiatry and psychology is in how they approach mental illness.
With their medical school background, psychiatrists will often treat mental health issues by prescription medication. They may commonly prescribe drugs such as beta blockers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, etc. Some critics of psychiatry believe that some psychiatrists turn to quickly to prescription medication before exhausting other possibilities.
Since psychologists are (generally) not permitted to prescribe medication, they use more traditional therapeutic methods, like talk therapy. That said, psychiatrists generally use talk therapy as well. It just so happens that psychologists tend to use non-pharmaceutical methods to treat mental health problems.
There are actually a few states that allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication, including Iowa, Illinois, New Mexico, and Louisiana.
Many people wonder if psychiatrists or psychologists are paid more. Well, when you factor in that psychiatrists are medical doctors, it makes sense that they would have higher salaries.
So, in general, psychiatrists make more money, in the ballpark of $200,000 or more per year.
Psychologists commonly earn between $60,000 and $90,000, depending on where they are located and their level of education and experience.
Salaries generally depend on these factors—i.e. location, education, experience—so a psychologist in California may out earn a psychiatrist in Idaho, for example.
Psychology and psychiatry are two terms that are frequently used interchangeably but mean different things. As such, it’s best to use them correctly, especially since they are concerned with treating mental health, a serious issue.
In short, both psychology and psychiatry aspire to treat mental health, but they go about it in different ways. For example, psychiatrists have more of a medical background and can prescribe medication, whereas psychologists usually do not.