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Psychiatry Degree Programs – Information and Resources

Overview of Psychiatry Degree Programs

The field of psychiatry focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. In some cases, people who work in this field may also conduct research involving mental disorders and/or their treatment options. The most common career chosen in the field of psychiatry is that of a psychiatrist. However, if you don’t want to spend as much time in school, you may also choose the related career paths of psychiatric technician, counseling, clinical psychology and psychiatric research/teaching. All of these career choices vary according to their average salary, work environment and other characteristics.

Salary Information for Psychiatrists

The salary you can expect to earn with a career in psychiatry will vary based on the position you choose, your education, work history, location and many other factors. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average salaries for various positions in psychiatry are as follows:

Psychiatric Technician – $27,440
Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorder Counselor – $38,520
Mental Health Counselor – $41,500
Psychologist – $69,280
Psychiatrist – $182,660

Work Environment for Psychiatrists

Work environments vary considerably based on the exact career you choose. As a counselor, you can expect to work in an office and keep regular hours, although some counselors may offer night and weekend appointments to patients. As a psychiatric technician or psychiatrist, you will typically work in a hospital or clinic, and you may spend more time on your feet. Psychiatric technicians and psychiatrists may also work nights and weekends. As a psychologist, you may work in an office, hospital or clinic, but you will typically work only during business hours. Finally, some psychologists, psychiatrists and all research assistants work in labs during regular business hours in order to perform research. Professionals in all of these professions tend to work full time.

Job Outlook for those pursuing the Psychiatry Profession

With the exception of psychiatric technicians, the demand for professionals in all of these careers is increasing at a faster-than-average rate. According to the BLS, the average rate of expected increase in job openings among all careers in the United States from 2012 to 2022 is 11 percent. However, the rates of expected increase for careers in psychiatry are as follows.

Psychiatric Technician – 5 percent
Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorder Counselor – 31 percent
Mental Health Counselor – 29 percent
Psychologist – 12 percent

Psychiatry Degrees by Level

Certificate – Psychiatric Technicians

Psychiatric technicians are professionals who care for patients with developmental disabilities or mental health conditions. They are responsible for observation and monitoring of patients, as well as helping patients with activities of daily living.

To become a psychiatric technician, you need a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. Programs vary in length according to the end result. While certificate programs typically last only a few months, associate’s degree programs require approximately two years of full-time study. Depending on your employer, you may also need to complete some on-the-job training before you can work as a psychiatric technician.

Courses typically included in a psychiatric technician program are as follows:

•Communicable Disease
•Mental Disorders
•Patient Education
•Nursing Process
•Development and Growth
•Developmental Disabilities
•Fundamentals of Nursing
•Gerontological Nursing
•Medical/Surgical Nursing

Most states do not require psychiatric technicians to apply for licensure. However, according to the BLS, licensure is currently required by Kansas, Colorado, California and Arkansas. To become licensed in one of these states, you must typically complete an approved program and pass a test.

Certificate/On-the-Job Training – Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorder Counselor

A substance abuse counselor works with patients who are addicted to drugs or alcohol in order to help them overcome the addiction and live a better life. A behavioral disorder counselor helps patients cope with behavioral disorders, such as anorexia.

In order to become a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor, you must at least obtain a certificate or complete on-the-job training. However, if you wish to work in private practice, you will need at least a master’s degree and a state license. While a certificate or on-the-job training program will require only a few months of study, a master’s degree program will require up to six years of study, depending on your educational background upon entry.

On-the-job training programs for substance abuse counselors will typically cover the following topics:

•Recognizing addiction
•Recognizing behavioral disorders
•Mechanisms for overcoming addiction
•Coping mechanisms
•Counseling skills
•Responding to crisis situations

Bachelor’s Degree – Psychiatric/Psychological Research Assistant

Psychiatric/psychological research assistants are responsible for helping scientists conduct experiments or complete research projects involving mental health conditions or treatments.

To become a psychiatric or psychological research assistant, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely-related field. Before entering a bachelor’s degree program, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent degree. Most students can complete a bachelor’s degree with four years of full-time study.

Programs vary, but courses typically included in bachelor’s degree programs are as follows:

•Fitness and Wellness
•General Psychology
•Critical Thinking
•Scientific Method
•Developmental Psychology
•Social Psychology
•Psychology of Learning
•Experimental Psychology
•Abnormal Psychology

In addition to the courses listed above, you may also be required to take electives and/or general education courses in order to complete a bachelor’s degree program.

Master’s Degree – Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors help patients deal with stress, emotional disorders, mental health problems and family issues. They may also refer some patients to psychiatrists for more intensive treatment.

To become a mental health counselor, you need at least a master’s degree in psychology, counseling or another closely-related field. Master degree programs usually require students to have at least a bachelor’s degree before entry. With full-time study, you can complete a master’s degree program in approximately two years.

Courses typically included in a master’s degree program for counselors are as follows:

•Psychology Research
•Cognitive Psychology
•Behavioral Analysis
•Pediatric Psychology
•Neuroanatomy and Behavior
•Cognitive Neuroscience
•Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
•Social Psychology
•Evidence-Based Psychotherapy
•Biological Basis of Behavior
•Behavioral Stress Management
•Forensic Assessment
•Learning and Memory
•Theories of Intervention
•Psychology of Eating Disorders
•Substance Use
•Psychological and Intellectual Assessment
•Family Therapy

After you have earned your master’s degree in psychology, you will be able to qualify for most entry-level counseling positions and many leadership positions. In most states, you will also be able to open your own practice after becoming licensed. In order to become licensed, you must complete an approved program and a supervised internship.

Doctoral Degree – Psychologist

Two doctoral degrees are available in the field of psychology: Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Your career options depend primarily on the degree you choose. While psychologists with a Ph.D. tend to focus more on teaching and research; psychologists with a Psy.D. spend most of their time working with patients.

Doctoral programs in psychology vary in length depending on your educational background. If you have only a bachelor’s degree when you enter the program, it may take four years of full-time study to earn your degree. However, if you already have a master’s degree in a related field, you may be able to complete your doctoral degree with only two years of full-time study.

The curricula for doctoral programs vary, but typical courses include:

•Learning and Motivation
•Cognitive Psychology
•Physiological Psychology
•Multicultural Psychology
•Community Psychology
•Social Psychology
•Ethical and Legal Issues
•Advanced Psychopathology
•Clinical Assessment
•Cognitive Testing

Depending on the career you choose, you may still need to become licensed by your state. Licensure typically requires completion of an approved program and a passing score on a licensure examination.

Doctoral Degree – Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental health conditions. Since they are physicians, they are authorized to prescribe medication when necessary.

To become a psychiatrist, you must earn a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.). M.D. programs are typically four years in length and require full-time study. To enter an M.D. program, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field. Typical M.D. programs include the following courses:

•Behavioral Science
•Human Development
•Infection and Immunity

M.D. programs also require clinical training in various specialties, such as:

•Emergency Medicine
•Obstetrics and Gynecology
•Family Medicine
•Internal Medicine

After earning your M.D., you must also pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination and complete a residency program in psychiatry. Psychiatry residency programs are four years in length.

Choosing a Degree Program

One of the most important career choices you will ever make is the selection of a degree/training program. Be sure to consider all of the characteristics below before you make your decision.


If the career you are pursuing requires you to apply for certification or licensure, make sure that the degree program you choose is approved by the certification or licensing agency.


Accreditation is an indication of a program’s effectiveness and quality level. When considering programs, find out whether each prospective program is accredited by a reputable organization. However, you should also keep in mind that a psychiatry program may be approved, but not accredited and vice versa.

Graduation Rate

A program’s graduation rate is a reliable indicator of the level of support provided to students. If possible, choose a program with a higher graduation rate.

Examination Pass Rate

If your career of choice requires you to pass a certification or licensure examination, the pass rate among previous students will tell you how well your program prepared students for the test. Look for a program with a solid pass rate.

Employment Rate

If students have difficulty finding employment after graduation, the program they attended may not have prepared them for their jobs as well as it should have. Inquire about the employment rate among previous graduates of all prospective programs.

Faculty-to-Student Ratios

Lower faculty-to-student ratios translate to more one-on-one attention from teachers, which can greatly increase your chances of success. Choose a psychiatry program with a low faculty-to-student ratio, if possible.

Program Flexibility

Program flexibility varies considerably. While some programs may allow you to attend only part-time, other programs require full-time study. If you have other obligations, such as a family or job, be sure to find out whether a program allows for part-time study and/or online courses. Keep in mind that some degrees, such as an M.D., typically require all students to enroll full time.

Tuition and Fees

Before applying to any program, ask for a comprehensive list of all tuition and fees you will pay and make sure you can afford them. If you cannot afford the fees, ask about available financial aid. While some programs may offer scholarships, grants or student loans, others may not. If you think you will still owe money after financial aid, ask if a payment plan will be possible.

Other Considerations

All degree programs impose prerequisites and other requirements on applicants. Before you spend your time and money applying, make sure you are a qualified candidate. Likewise, most career choices have requirements, in addition to the completion of an approved program. Make sure you can satisfy these requirements before you spend your time and money obtaining a degree.

Psychiatry Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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