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AnswerA psychiatrist specializes in prescribing mental health medications, and rarely provides psychotherapy. A psychiatrist's training is that of a medical physician's, involving four years of pre-med studies (i.e. a Bachelor Degree with a pre-med emphasis), then four years of medical school. After medical school, like all physicians in training (DO, MD, or MBBS), one has to choose a post-graduate 'residency.' In the case of a psychiatrist, they will then go to a four year psychiatric residency. A psychiatric residency usually involves training at an inpatient (hospital or hospital like) setting. Residents are supervised by other psychiatirsts, and have 'seminars' on various topics, such as: Psychopharmacology, Mood disorders, Eating disorders etc. Many of the topics are electives, so no one psychiatrist has the exact same training. 'Seminars' are different than typical graduate school classes in that in a seminar less time is devoted to one particular topic, and exams are not required. Most seminars last around an hour or two, once a week, for around four to six weeks.

Assuming one has passed his/her 3 part Medical boards after the first year of the residency, one can begin practicing medicine, but until the psychiatric residency is complete and the psychiatric board exam is passed, one cannot be a psychiatrist.

After one has passed one's psychiatric board exam, one is now, officially, a psychiatrist, and has the option of continuing their education, for example, to become a psychoanalyst. The vast majority do not do so, however. Most psychiatrists spend the rest of their profession writing prescriptions for antidepressant, antianxiety, and mood stabilizing, and anti-psychotic medications. The average visit to a psychiatrist lasts between 5 - 10 minutes.

People often ask, "what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist in training." Psychologists obtain a BA (usually - but not always- in Psychology), then go to a five year graduate program that focuses exclusively on behavioral science. They take in-depth classes that provide training in psychotherapy and behavior modification. Classes include psychopharmacology, but except for New Mexico and Louisiana, they cannot prescribe medications. They are the only profession legally allowed to administer psychological exams, such as IQ and personality tests. Before they can be licensed, they need to obtain between approximately three years of hands-on training, supervised by a licensed psychologist. It takes the average psychologist, after their BA, to become licensed, around 7 - 8 years.

Bottom line:

A psychiatrist is medical physician with specialized training in mental health medications.

A psychologist is a behavioral doctor, with specialized training in psychotherapy.

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Q: What education or training do you need to become a psychiatrist?
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