Which is Better - Becoming a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist?

Updated June 27, 2023 · 2 Min Read

Learn more about a career as a Psychologist vs. a Psychiatrist including education requirements and certifications and licensing to determine the path for you.

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Psychologists and psychiatrists seem like similar professionals, but they actually perform quite different functions related to mental health. Many people debate which position is "better." However, "better" is a relative term. In order to understand which might be better for certain things, we need to look at the differences between the two.

While both psychologists and psychiatrists work with people to resolve mental, emotional and behavioral issues, they each approach methodology and practice in different ways. For starters, psychiatrists are doctors with medical degrees; psychologists hold doctorate degrees from non-medical institutions. The following outlines some other major differences to help determine which position might be better for certain situations.

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Training Requirements

Both psychologists and psychiatrists will spend many years in school followed by years of residency programs and internships. A psychologist completes one of two doctoral degrees, either a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Ph.D. in Psychology, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. While some school psychologists might earn a master's degree, most psychologists must hold a doctorate in order to practice in their field, particularly if they want to practice a subspecialty like clinical or forensic psychology.

Psychiatrists, according to the Bureau, must complete medical school and earn a medical degree. In fact the Bureau recognizes psychiatry under the same classification as Physicians and Surgeons in its Occupational Outlook Handbook. As such, psychiatrists must complete the same educational and training requirements that doctors and surgeons complete.

Job Outlook & Salary

According to the Bureau, psychologists and psychiatrists share similar occupational outlooks. Over the next decade, both are projected to increase on a faster basis that other occupations, with psychologists at 22% and psychiatrists at 24%. The salary changes drastically between the two occupations. In 2010, the average salary for a psychologist was $68,640, whereas psychiatrists, under the blanket salary of physicians and surgeons, earned equal to or more than $166,400 in 2010. Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists earn more money on average than psychologists.


Both positions offer benefits to both patients and practitioners, and determining which one is "better" still depends largely on how you look at the question. Do you want to know which would make a better career or which one you should seek for personal help?

In terms of a career, becoming a psychiatrist offers a better salary, but psychologists might be more employable simply because of the subspecialties they enter. The Bureau estimated that in 2010, over 100,000 jobs were available in psychology. Because they list psychiatrists under physicians and surgeons, the number of jobs was over 600,000 in 2010, but this number includes the entire category of physicians and surgeons.

If you need mental help for yourself or a friend, then choosing which professional is "better" becomes more difficult and depends on the severity of the situation. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication in addition to offering therapy, whereas most psychologists can only provide non-medical therapy. Determining which professional is better depends on a variety of factors because each offers something valuable to those they serve.


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