Difference Between Psychiatrist & Psychopharmacologist

Mental health disorders are treated by both psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists, but their approach is a bit different. Psychiatrists work primarily on using counseling techniques, while psychopharmacologists prescribe medications first.

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Comparing Psychiatrists to Psychopharmacologists

Both of these professions require a medical degree and additional training in neuroscience, but the psychopharmacologists further specialize in studying the effects of chemicals on the body. Individuals in both professions work with clients who suffer from mental disorders, but the psychopharmacologist is more likely to be involved in clinical trials of a particular drug. Read more to get an understanding of these two professions.

Job Title Minimum Education Required Median Salary Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Psychiatrists Doctorate or professional degree $195,952 (2017)** 14% (physicians and surgeons)
Psychopharmacologists Doctorate or professional degree $80,530 (2016)* 8% (medical scientists, except epidemiologists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Responsibilities of a Psychiatrist vs. a Psychopharmacologist

All psychopharmacologists are trained as psychiatrists first, but not all psychiatrists go into psychopharmacology. A psychiatrist evaluates patients based on medical history, specific tests for mental disorders and collaboration with other mental health professionals. They develop an individualized plan for treatment that may or may not include the use of medications. The psychopharmacologist also works with patients, but the primary focus is on studying how the patient responds to medications.


A psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor with post medical school training in behavioral science. They meet with clients one on one and assess their mental health status through the use of psychoanalysis. Some patients require hospitalization while others can be treated through regular meetings with the psychiatrist in their office. The psychiatrist determines the best plan to improve the client's mental health which may include individual therapy, group therapy with family members or medication for chemical imbalances. Psychiatrists may specialize in treating particular disorders such as bipolar disorder or post traumatic stress disorder, or they may specialize in a particular type of psychotherapy.

Job responsibilities of a psychiatrist include:

  • Documenting patient case histories
  • Ordering specific medical tests
  • Prescribing medications
  • Communicating with families, guardians or other professionals involved with the client


A psychopharmacologist is a psychiatrist that specializes in studying how the body metabolizes chemicals and other factors such as genetics. They are often employed by pharmaceutical companies to develop or evaluate new prescription medications that may cure or stabilize mental disorders. Often their work involves clinical trials where many patients are given the same medication and the effects are tracked over time. The psychopharmacologist would have the job of monitoring both physical and behavioral signs of mental illness and altering the treatment plan for individuals by increasing, decreasing or eliminating medications. They can also work individually with patients outside clinical trials to find the right balance of medications that meet the client's needs.

Job responsibilities of a psychopharmacologist include:

  • Diagnosing mental health disorders
  • Evaluating the effect of medications on patient behavior
  • Identifying individuals appropriate for clinical trials of medications
  • Monitoring mental and physical changes during clinical trials
  • Reporting findings of clinical trials to government or corporate officials

Related Careers

People interested in being a psychiatrist could look into becoming a psychologist, a position that also provides therapies for mental health patients. A pharmacologist also works on using the correct medications to treat patients like a psychopharmacologist, but they may specialize in drugs that effect the heart or lungs instead of the brain.

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