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Do psychologists prescribe medication?

Dear Psychologist,


I'd like to become a psychologist and work with people who suffer from depression. Will I be able to prescribe medication to my patients? Can psychologists ever be trained to be prescribers? Thank you for your time, Bill

Dear Bill,

Psychology is a fascinating field and you will certainly have your chance to work with patients who are depressed, as depression is sometimes called the "common cold" of psychological disturbances.

How psychologists train

Psychologists train in a doctoral program of psychology for a minimum of 4 years. During this time, they take classes in a variety of areas, including developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, theories of psychology, treatment techniques, organizational dynamics and more. Some psychology students are interested in physical health areas and do study things like psychopharmacology.

In addition to classes, your doctoral training program would include one or more supervised internships approved by the American Psychological Association and a dissertation or final project. Following your doctoral degree, you would work in a supervised setting a number of hours as required by your state licensing board. Finally you would sit for a state licensing exam.

The training of psychiatrists

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, follow a different training path. They attend medical school like other doctors. Then they specialize through course work and residencies in a psychiatric setting. Psychiatrists are trained in the body's systems and in medications.

Prescribing rights

For now, psychologists are not generally allowed to prescribe medication. New Mexico is one state that has granted prescribing license to some psychologists who have a specialized extra training. However, though many psychologists have fought for the right to prescribe medicine most state licensing boards are far from granting this privelege. Should your state one day allow it, you will need to take coursework and training particularly in the body's systems and in prescribing medication.

Sure, it would be nice to be able to work with your own patients both as a therapist and the one who prescribes the medication. Certainly, anti-depressants have been shown to be an effective component for depressed patients in many cases. However, what many psychologists do quite easily is to work in a team approach with a psychiatrist who can prescribe the medication. Chances are that you will know your patient much better than the psychiatrist as you will have more time to spend with her or him in assessment. Therefore, if you wish, you can consult with the psychiatrist about your findings and together work on a treatment plan.

Next steps: studying psychopharmacology

In the meantime, if you have strong interest in medicines, I suggest that you take some courses in psychopharmacology. Your graduate program might have one or you might find one in an online program. It is always good to understand other fields you might intersect with. And it may be that one day psychologists do indeed have the chance to obtain prescribing priveleges so stay up to date with the field and what is allowed.

Good luck on your career!

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