Scottsdale Psychological Society
What's the difference between
a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Frequently, AzPA receives calls with questions about what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. If you are wondering too, don't feel bad, it's a very common question. The following is a very basic description of the differences in general; not all psychologists and psychiatrists will exactly fit the description of what they do professionally.

First, the term "Psychologist" is a legally protected term meaning that the individual is licensed to practice as a psychologist and has met specific educational requirements and training. Psychologists will generally (and always in the state of AZ) have a doctorate degree in some area of psychology. Most psychologists have either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D, although many also have an Ed.D. A Ph.D. is a doctorate of philosophy in psychology and typically means that person has completed an educational program that blends research and practice training. A Psy.D. is a doctorate of psychology and typically means that person has completed an educational program more heavily oriented to the practice of psychology and less research focus. An Ed.D. is a doctorate of education, typically in the area of counseling psychology, and may mean the person has either a research/practice background or a more concentrated practice background.

Regardless of the type of doctorate degree, psychologists typically complete between 5-7 years of post baccalaureate (post college) education. A one year pre-doctoral internship is completed as part of those 5-7 years and frequently psychologists will complete a year of post-doctoral training before becoming licensed. Psychologists may specialize in the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, educational psychology, child psychology, neuropsychology, or occasionally, family social sciences (marriage and family focus). There is one exception to the above information about the use of the term psychologist. School psychologists do not have to complete a doctoral degree or be licensed as a psychologist to use the term psychologist. School psychologists may have a specialist degree instead; a specialist degree is in between a master's degree and a doctorate. They often do not complete the described internship.

Psychologists are typically trained to do any of the following but not everyone does each piece: therapy/counseling, group counseling, testing and evaluation, research, and supervision. Psychologists may specialize further beyond the areas listed above. While they often have an understanding about psychotropic (mental health) drugs, they do not prescribe them.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized in psychiatry (or mental health issues). They may have either an M.D. (medical doctor) or a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy). Typically psychiatrists will complete 4 years of medical school after college, followed by 4 years of residency specializing in psychiatry. Some psychiatrists complete a 1 year general internship prior to their residency training. It is during the residency training where the focus is away from general medicine and geared toward psychiatry and the treatment of mental health issues. Although some psychiatrists do engage in psychotherapy as a treatment of their patients, most limit themselves to medication management. Their appointments are often between 15-30 minutes (medication management) to 1 hour for intake. They do prescribe medication for psychiatric problems. Psychiatrists are not trained to give or interpret psychological testing. Psychiatrists may specialize in a number of population areas.