The term "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" are often used interchangeably to describe a person who conducts psychotherapy. In fact,these two professions are not interchangeable. There are significant differences between these professional roles. Examining the educational background required for each profession can be helpful in understanding their differences.
Psychiatrists go to medical school like other physicians. After three or four years they receive their M.D. degree. They spend the next four years in a residency which generally includes inpatient and outpatient rotations in general medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, neurology, and psychiatry. This residency does not usually include specific training in psychology and psychotherapy. After they complete their residency and pass the state board exam, these physicians can obtain a license to practice. As physicians, they are able to prescribe medicine and admit patients to hospitals.
Clinical Psychologists typically spend five to seven years receiving graduate training in psychology in order to obtain a doctoral degree, (most commonly a Ph.D. but may be a Psy.D. or an Ed.D.), in clinical or counseling psychology. Psychology is the study of people: how they think, act, react, and interact. All course work is related to understanding every aspect of human behavior and the thoughts, feelings, and motivation underlying this behavior. Two years of supervised clinical experience follow receipt of the doctorate degree when candidates are trained to diagnose, perform psychotherapy, and help people understand themselves and address their emotional issues. Following these two years of clinical experience, they may take the state licensing exam. Only after they have met the above requirements and passed the state licensing exam are they able to practice clinical psychology and call themselves a "psychologist."
Some psychologists and psychiatrists go on to receive further specialized training after attaining their Ph.D. or M.D. Degrees. Advanced programs in child, adolescent, family, marriage and couples therapy, group psychotherapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and behavioral and cognitive therapy may require at least one to three years of additional coursework and supervision. A clinician who has obtained one or more Certificates in advanced training programs is among the most highly trained mental health professionals.
Psychotherapy is conducted with individuals, groups, couples, and families. Psychotherapists help people to overcome stress, emotional problems, relationship problems, and troublesome habits. Psychologists treat people by providing psychotherapy focused on helping people understand the root of their problems and what they can do to change destructive behaviors, grow emotionally, and enhance their lives. Most psychiatrists in private practice focus on symptom relief using medicine to correct chemical imbalances that affect their clients. Most psychologists do not prescribe medicine. However, some psychologists who have taken advanced training in psychopharmacology can prescribe medicine as a part of their psychotherapy treatment.