Therapist vs. Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist: Which Career Choice Is Right for You?
If you’re passionate about finding a career that will allow you to make a direct impact in people’s lives by helping them navigate complicated issues related to work, family, past trauma, or mental health, you may be considering the roles of therapist, psychiatrist, and psychologist. All three professions offer the opportunity to directly engage with patients and provide assistance during difficult times. But, although the three terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the jobs are different in several crucial ways.
As you think about your career trajectory and your educational path, it’s worth comparing therapist vs. psychiatrist roles, as well as psychiatrist vs. psychologist roles.
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What Is a Therapist?
Therapists help people manage problems with their relationships, with their family, or with unaddressed shame or trauma. One of the most common types of therapist is the marriage and family therapist, who focuses on helping individuals, families, and couples navigate conflicts within their relationships.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a therapist’s basic duties can include:
Most therapists work in private practice, and they may draw on a range of different tools to help them do their job, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Becoming a Therapist
To become a therapist, it is generally required to earn a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree in mental health counseling, psychology, or a related field. Licensing is also required. Licensing requirements vary by state, but usually involve a certain number of hours of supervised clinical work.
BLS data shows that the annual median salary of marriage and family therapists was $51,340 in 2020. The profession is projected to grow at a rate of 16% between 2021 and 2031, which is a much higher rate than the average projected for all professions.
What Is a Psychiatrist?
When comparing therapist vs. psychiatrist roles, what are the key points of distinction
While therapists can play an invaluable part in helping their patients cope with mental health issues, psychiatrists are medical doctors who play a more direct clinical role. The psychiatrist’s job description can include any of the following:
- Assessing patients and diagnosing them with mental health disorders, such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Diagnosing chemical imbalances in patients that can lead to developmental disorders or delays
- Developing clinical plans for patients to prevent, remedy, or manage the symptoms of mental health disorders
- Coordinating with other medical professionals as needed
- Prescribing medications or other forms of treatment to patients
- Referring patients to counselors or therapists when appropriate
Becoming a Psychiatrist
Becoming a psychiatrist requires completion of an undergraduate degree, a medical degree, and a four-year residency in psychiatry. Many psychiatrists also choose to complete a fellowship in a psychiatric subspecialty.
BLS data shows that the annual median salary of psychiatrists in 2020 was $217,100. The profession is projected to grow at a rate of just under 4% between 2021 and 2031, which is slightly below the average growth projected for all professions.
What Is a Psychologist?
When looking at psychiatrist vs. psychologist roles, it’s clear there are some key differences between the two. Psychologists specialize in the study of human behavior and mental processes, including the ways in which people interact with others and with their environment. A psychologist may help patients manage difficulties in their life, or cope with the effects of mental health disorders.
Much like a psychiatrist, a psychologist can assess and even diagnose mental health disorders or developmental disorders. The primary difference is that psychologists are not physicians. They do not have comprehensive medical training, and they are not able to prescribe medications. However, they can develop treatment plans, which can include referring patients to psychiatrists or other medical professionals as needed.
Becoming a Psychologist
Most psychologist roles require a doctoral-level psychology degree in their field, though some organizations may permit psychologists to practice with only a master’s degree. According to the BLS, this is particularly true of psychologists employed by schools or in industrial settings. Psychologists must also pursue licensing, with requirements that differ from state to state.
The annual median salary of psychologists in 2020 was $82,180, according to data from the BLS. The field is projected to grow at a rate of 8% between 2021 and 2031, which is about as fast as average.
Choosing the Right Profession: Therapist vs. Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist
As you decide which field is right for you, you can consider a number of factors, including:
- Differences in educational requirements (psychiatrists require the highest level of education)
- Differences in salaries (psychiatrists typically make the most money)
- Differences in responsibilities (psychiatry is recommended for those who want to prescribe medicine, while becoming a therapist may be the best route for those who want to help patients talk through their problems)
- Differences in job opportunities (therapy is the field that’s growing fastest)
Explore the different academic paths available and start a journey toward a rewarding new career today.