Whether you’re wondering what to do at Uni or are mid-career and thinking of a change, here’s your career guide to becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist.
The importance of mental health has been gaining more and more prominence in our personal lives but also broadly across the community.
This is evidenced in how the stigma around talking about mental health issues is receding as governments at all levels invest significantly in mental health services in recognition of how critical this is for a well-functioning society. What it also means is that the demand for mental health services and the professionals who work in the sector has never been higher – in just the last few years alone, the mental health sector workforce has grown by 6.5% and looks set to continue to grow.
The mental health workforce is full of different kinds of roles, although very often when someone talks about receiving mental health advice they talk about seeing a ‘psych’. But when they say this, do they mean a psychologist or a psychiatrist?
The difference between psychiatrists and psychologists
Differentiating between psychiatrists and psychologists is much easier than many think, the key difference being that psychiatrists are initially trained as medical doctors, so they can prescribe medication, something a psychologist cannot do.
However, this difference aside, both roles undertake significant training to understand how the brain works to enable them to study and, in turn, understand or diagnose mental health conditions tied to how we think and behave.
The fact that psychiatrists can prescribe medication does not mean this is the only way they help people manage their mental health – both professions have at their disposal a range of therapies and treatments in a field that is always discovering more about the human brain. Whichever way you decide to go, the steps to entering and practising each profession are significantly different.
Becoming a Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists specialise in researching and treating people with mental health and psychological issues ranging from depression to addiction to bipolar disorder, amongst many others. As with any profession, the path to becoming a psychiatrist is long and involves taking around 10-12 years.
One of the first major steps is undertaking a Bachelor of Medicine (MBBS). Gaining admission to a Medicine degree is limited to those with excellent Year 12 results, or, for those changing careers, good prior undergraduate results and generally sitting for the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).
After completing a Medicine degree, one to two year’s medical experience, generally working in the hospital system, is required to gain practical experience. This must then be followed by specific psychiatry training through the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) where trainees rotate across different hospital wards to work in a range of settings such as child and adolescent psychiatry, adult psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.
Becoming a Psychologist
Psychologists deliver specialist services for the treatment of mental, emotional and behavioural disorders, counselling their patients to more optimal mental health outcomes so they can live their best lives.
The nine specialist areas of psychology are:
Educational and Developmental Psychology
Sport and Exercise Psychology
The pathway to becoming a psychologist differs from that of becoming a psychiatrist, taking roughly half the length of time at around six years, although in some cases up to ten years for those who want to further specialise and do a PhD.
After undertaking a four-year Bachelor/Honours programme, provisional registration can be attained but to gain full registration candidates must complete a two-year Masters, a one-year Masters and one-year internship, or a two-year internship. The latter two options also involved passing a National Psychology exam before being eligible to apply for general registration.
Work for Psychology and Psychiatry
According to Job Outlook data, both professions clock in at around 43-45 hours a week, with a higher proportion of psychiatrists working full-time (71%, compared to about 52% of psychologists). And when it comes to average weekly earrings, psychiatrists tend to earn around $2100 a week, with psychologists not far behind at around $1850 per week.
Looking forward, as previously mentioned, the growing and sustained focus on mental health means that the demand for both psychologists and psychiatrists is likely to remain high, meaning job prospects are positive well into the future.
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