Career-of-the-Month: Psychologist & Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are medical doctors; psychologists are not. The suffix “-iatry” means “medical treatment,” and “-logy” means “science” or “theory.” So psychiatry is the medical treatment of the psyche, while psychology is the science of the psyche. (Psyche is an ancient Greek term for the totality of the human mind, both conscious and unconscious.)

Psychologists are scientists trained in human behavior. They try to understand and explain why people act the way they do. They study individuals, societies and cultures, and sometimes even animals such as mice and monkeys. They conduct research at colleges and private research centers to test their ideas about how people’s emotions, feelings and beliefs influence their actions, and they publish their findings in journals. They may obtain data from laboratory experiments, interviews, surveys, recordings and observations.

Psychologists work at many different places such as schools, hospitals, businesses, and government agencies. Psychologists usually specialize in a field such as human services, education, or mental health. They evaluate, diagnose, treat and advise patients or clients. Psychologists can help people deal with problems of everyday living. Some help people deal with the death of a friend or family member. A psychologist may work with people of all ages, or work mainly with those of a certain age. For example, child psychologists specialize in children and adolescents. School psychologists help students with behavior problems. A forensic psychologist conducts evaluations and testifies in court.

Psychologists explore different mindsets and emotional problems through psychoanalysis techniques such as asking questions. In addition, psychologists use a variety of tools such as questionnaires and personality tests – including the famed Rorschach test in which the client is shown a variety of inkblots and asked to tell what they see. These tests are meant to reveal how people perceive themselves and the world around them, and how that could affect the way they behave. Psychologists tend to use these tests more than psychiatrists.

Psychometrists are specialized psychologists who focus on administering and scoring psychological and neuropsychological assessments. Their training emphasizes extensive comprehension of test administration and efficient scoring combined with providing detailed behavioral observations of the examinee. A thorough test battery may require 6-8 hours to administer and score as it assesses cognitive functioning, attention and concentration skills, language functioning, verbal and visual-spatial abilities, academic/achievement performance, memory, motor and sensory-motor integration, effort, executive functioning, and emotional status.

Working conditions for psychologists vary. Some psychologists have their own offices and set their own hours. However, they may also work evenings and weekends to meet with their clients. Those who work in schools and clinics usually work regular daytime hours. Psychologists who work with patients must be good with people. Those who do research need to be able to work by themselves and as part of a team.

Psychologists have to attend school for a long time. Some go through five to seven years of academic graduate study, culminating in a doctorate degree. They may hold a Ph.D., or if they are mainly interested in clinical psychology, may pursue a Psy.D. Psychologists who have their own practice need a license from the state where they want to work. A license requires certain education and work experience, and passing a test. Licensing requirements for psychologists vary from state to state, but at least a one- or two-year internship is required to apply for a license to practice psychology.

Opportunities are very limited for Bachelor degree and M.A. degree holders as psychologists. They may work in some specialties or as research assistants, but M.A. level psychologists face intense competition.Psychologists with a Ph.D. degree have the best chance to get a job, and those with good computer and research skills will have an advantage. Successful, self-employed psychologists can earn high salaries; however, earnings vary greatly.

Psychiatrists begin their careers in medical school. After earning their MD, they go on to four years of residency training in mental health and mental disorders, typically in a hospital’s psychiatric ward. After completing their residency, these physicians can be licensed to practice psychiatry. Psychiatric neurologists, or neuropsychiatrists as they are more commonly called, practice psychiatry with a focus on neurology (the brain-behavioral connection). Since psychiatrists are doctors they can prescribe medication to help prevent, treat, and cure the symptoms of the various problems they encounter.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists can be considered healthcare professionals. They both treat people with problems that vary widely by degree and type from mild anxiety, depression, and ADD to schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. Both are able to practice psychotherapy, and both may do research. But you may be surprised if you’re referred to a therapist, to find that he or she may not be a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Although the term “psychotherapist” is used to describe anyone who interacts with clients in a clinical setting (including psychiatrists and psychologists), “psychotherapist” has become synonymous with those having a master’s degree in psychology. Psychotherapists use their educational background as their title (such as “Marriage and Family Therapist”). Clinical social workers (CSWs) are mental health professionals who have master’s degrees in social work and have been licensed to practice psychotherapy after completing at least two years of clinical training.

Some Christians argue that psychology is an idolatrous and unbiblical subject associated with humanism, evolutionism, and moral relativism. However, Christian thinkers and ministers throughout the centuries developed many understandings of human beings using the Bible as a standard for reflection. Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family, is an evangelical Christian author and licensed psychologist with a Ph.D. in child development. Dr. Kevin Leman is another well-known Christian author and speaker, having earned his doctorate degree in psychology from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Tim Rice, D. Min., a licensed professional counselor and author of Homeschool Psych and Psychology: A Christian Perspective, says “I believe that it is a mistake to reject psychology by equating the entire discipline with the whacked-out worldview assumptions of its modern ‘fathers.’ The human mind is the greatest of God’s creations and it is right and proper for Christian students to study it.” He adds, “it is good that our students want to understand and help people who are hurting, if they approach it from a Christian perspective.”

As a former school psychologist/psychometrist and homeschool mom explained, “I was always an observer of behavior even before I started to study psychology. I also would question why people did this or that and look for answers since I was a young child… My profession has helped me out a bit but I can tell you some of the theories in psychology required compromise and modification when it comes to bring up your own children and that you just fall back on common sense and faith to make a call on something.”

Related Occupations:

Social Workers
Special Education Teachers

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