But I am often surprised at how often folks confuse these two professions. It happens ALL the time. Just one example: the writers of the television show Bones alternately call Dr. Lance Sweets a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Unfortunately, if you look at his fictional educational credentials, it turns out he's a psychologist. Ugh. His massively boundary-crossing, you-should-lose-your-license-and-you-make-my-skin-crawl unethical behavior makes me wish he was batting for the other team (apologies to any psychiatrists out there. I shouldn't be wishing him on you, either).
Ahem. Sorry. Moving on.
The basic educational distinctions between a psychiatrist and a psychologist:
Psychologists ... are more complicated. But they are not medical doctors.
You can become a "psychologist" by a lot of different routes, but it's almost always by getting a doctoral-level degree (unless you're a "school psychologist", which is often a masters-level qualification). There are several kinds of doctoral degrees, though (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D.). And even within the Ph.D.s, there are a lot of different kinds--clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, etc.. But no matter which degree you get, you have to qualify to take the national exam and the state exam, and only after you pass those do you get to call yourself a psychologist (legally).
Click to see the basic requirements to become a psychologist. Here's a quick rundown on me:
- I have a bachelors degree in psychology (from Hope College ... it's in Holland, Michigan)
- I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Delaware. It took me 6 years to get that sucker. Anyway, it was an APA-accredited program. I took certain classes, completed a lot of supervised clinical practice, and did quite a lot of research. I did my 1-year, full-time, APA-accredited clinical psychology/pediatric psychology internship at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
- I completed a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University. I did more supervised, specialized practice and research during those years, and at the end of it, I took the state (RI) and national licensure exams.
The basic day-to-day distinction between psychiatrists and psychologists:
Psychologists ... are more complicated. For the most part, we don't prescribe meds (there are 2 states that allow psychologists to prescribe if they get an extra masters degree in psychopharmacology). We do a lot of other things, though.
There's a general description here. Here's what I do:
- I perform psychological evaluations (which include IQ testing along with other psychological tests) and diagnose.
- I provide psychotherapy to children and families.
- I consult to schools and daycares (and anyone else who's wondering things like, "Why is that 4yo throwing chairs and threatening to kill people, and how do I get him to stop?!?!)
- I supervise and mentor other clinicians.
- I do program evaluation and research.
- I collaborate with other professionals regarding design of social service delivery systems and policies.
- Oh, and I write novels.
Now ... does that clear anything up? Are you writing a story that includes a psychologist, psychiatrist, or some other type of therapist? Do you wonder how to portray the therapy process? If anybody has questions about the psychiatrist/psychologist distinction or anything else related to portrayal of these professionals in YA fiction, please do comment. I'll either answer them directly or cover them in future posts!