A man goes to see a counselor. Confused, he says, "I keep having strange dreams. One night, I'm a wigwam. The next, I'm a tepee. The following night, I'm a wigwam again." The counselor says: "Relax. You're two tents." Unlike the two similar dwellings in the joke, however, the careers of psychotherapist and psychiatrist are not two of a kind. While they both deal with psychology -- including the problem of being too tense -- these professions are quite different from one another.
If you're going for the green, you'll want to consider becoming a psychiatrist. As a medical doctor who treats mental disorders, psychiatrists earn a median wage of $170,350 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the other hand, you won't be eating ramen noodles for dinner if you choose to work as a psychotherapist. Psychologists earn, on average, $90,010 a year. A psychiatrist must often pay off a significant amount of school loans -- medical school isn't cheap -- so you might not be able to buy that BMW your first year in practice.
While both professions require a significant amount of education, psychiatrists receive a very different education than do psychologists. While the potential psychotherapist is researching the effects of saxophone music on bipolar disorder in Scandinavia, the budding psychiatrist is dissecting cadavers in medical school. After you've earned your bachelor's degree, expect to spend approximately five additional years obtaining a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to become a psychotherapist. If you opt for medical school, the prerequisite courses, med school and your residency will take a minimum of 11 additional years.
As a psychotherapist, you could spend your days listening to your patients tell you about the time they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar as a child while they recline on a red velvet chaise lounge. You might need to work some evenings to accommodate your clients, but in general, your work hours will be fairly stable, even if you work for an agency. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, can be called in the middle of the night to deal with medical emergencies involving their patients. Instead of encouraging patients to examine their psyche, you'll be using diagnostic criteria to identify the disorders your patients have, and then prescribe the appropriate medication.
No matter which career path you choose, you shouldn't have difficulty finding a job or finding clients for your practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for psychologists will grow 22 percent from 2010 to 2020, while psychiatrists can expect their field to grow by 24 percent during the same time period. Demand for both of these professions tends to be significant in rural areas, especially for psychiatrists.
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