Many people in modern society think that psychology, psychiatry, counseling, and therapy are the same. In fact, there are differences among these terms and professions. The differences typically are due to the differences in the schooling received by the professional.


Psychologists require a minimum of an M.S., (Master of Science) degree but can acquire a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy), or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). The difference between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. is large, as someone with a Ph.D. has a research-based background, whereas the person with a Psy.D. has an applied, clinical background and approach to psychology. They use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) to diagnose conditions but are not able to prescribe medications or determine medical diagnoses. Psychologists also cannot use medical or chemical tests to determine a diagnosis, but they do utilize psychological tests. Psychologists are experts in psychosocial therapy methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy, (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy, (DBT).


In comparison, a psychiatrist must have an M.D., (Doctor of Medicine) due to their need to be able to identify the systems and functions of the body, perform a history and physical examinations, and create effective and specific treatment plans for various conditions of their clients. Psychiatrists are also able to prescribe medications, monitor those medications, and are the legal and clinical leader for the overall mental health care of their clients. Psychiatrists, like psychologists, diagnose mental health disorders using the DSM-V. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists don’t typically utilize psychotherapy. Clients are usually referred to psychiatrists by their primary care physicians or their current psychologist. The psychiatrist makes sure the client is on the right medications for their diagnoses and the right dosages. These clinicians need to keep in mind any other medications the client is on as well as any medical diagnoses the client may have to ensure effective medication management.

Can I get different degrees?

There are also various other degrees one can receive in the field of psychology and psychiatry. They include various concentrations, such as addiction counseling or trauma counseling. Psychologists and psychiatrists often work closely together to monitor their clients and ensure they return to and maintain their health. These professions are equally important and having an interest or degree in one field rather than the other does not make you greater or lesser than the other profession.

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Written by Florence Wolf

Hello, my name is Florence Wolf, but I go by Flo. I am currently enrolled at Alfred State College in the Human Services Management major. I'm a junior in the major and I absolutely love everything I am learning about and doing in the community. I work with the Peer Support Line on campus and am QPR certified. My plans for my life include continuing my education, receiving my PsyD through Denver University for Clinical Psychology, and working to improve the lives of those around me. I want to make a difference in people's lives and I feel I can do this by educating others about mental illnesses and the stigmas and working toward moving along in their lives and community.

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