Choosing Between Psychology and Psychiatry

psychiatry vs psychology

You’re interested in the human mind, and you want to help people. But how can you best do that? If you’re trying to decide between the fields of psychiatry and psychology, neither is better in terms of helping people, but they are different fields. Here are a few factors you should consider before you make your decision.


A psychiatrist is a type of medical doctor. In other words, in order to pursue this profession, you must go to medical school just as you would if you were going to be any other kind of doctor. You’ll also need to go through a demanding residency. The rigors and culture of medical school are not for everyone, but don’t assume that you’ll be getting off easy if you pursue psychology instead. You’ll still need to go to graduate school in pursuit of either a PhD, which is more focused on research, or a PsyD, which is more focused on clinical work. You might need additional certifications, but the requirements vary from state to state. You can take out loans for medical school or your doctorate in psychology from a private lender. While these can be brick-and-mortar lenders, online lenders are increasingly offering faster, easier access to loans.

Your Interests

As a broad-brush description of the differences in the two areas, psychiatry is more concerned with the biological side of mental health while a psychologist is more concerned with human behavior. Psychiatrists may prescribe medication, and they might work with people who have the most serious mental illnesses. Psychologists may work with people looking for ways to manage less severe issues, such as anxiety or relationship problems. When psychologists do work with people who have severe mental illnesses, their focus may be more on interventions to help the person integrate back into the community. Psychiatrists and psychologists may also work in tandem, with psychiatrists prescribing medication and psychologists offering therapy and certain types of testing and evaluation. Psychiatrists may also train in and offer psychotherapy in addition to medication.

Work Environment and Conditions

Both psychologists and psychiatrists may work in the same or similar environments, such as institutions, private practices or hospitals. However, psychologists do not always work in medical settings. For example, industrial or organizational psychologists may work for corporations. Schools may have a psychologist on staff. Psychologists may also work with groups as well as with individuals. While salaries vary a great deal based on where people live and what their specialty is, in general, a psychiatrist earns a higher salary than a psychologist.


Both professions have numerous subspecialties and many of them overlap. Psychologists and psychiatrists might specialize in working with a specific population, such as adolescents or older adults. They might specialize in certain areas, such as addiction. Law enforcement might work with both forensic psychiatrists and forensic psychologists in understanding human criminal behavior. However, there are also areas that only one or the other will specialize in. For example, you wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist if you need marriage counseling and you wouldn’t see a psychologist about having your medication adjusted.