Therapist, counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist – while many of these terms are used interchangeably, they are not necessarily the same.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, meaning that they have obtained a medical degree from an accredited college or university.
Psychologists may also hold doctorate degrees, but not necessarily. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, while psychologists cannot.
Both psychiatrists and psychologists may be considered counselors or therapists, and they often work together to implement a treatment plan for people with certain mental health conditions.
Becoming a psychiatrist starts with earning a bachelor’s degree. They are often pre-med students who major in a topic like biology, chemistry, or psychology, but this is not necessarily a requirement.
From there, students complete four years of medical school and a residency program, which can take three to six years.
Psychiatry medical students complete residencies in child, adolescent, and adult psychology. They can also specialize in areas like addiction, mood disorders, eating disorders, and schizoaffective disorders.
The United States is home to some of the best medical schools and psychiatric departments in the world, boasting major research funding from the National Institute of Health, professional organizations for students, connections to top hospitals and treatment centers, and expert professors who are also practicing psychiatrists.
The schools selected here are all within the top 10 of the US News best psychiatry schools list at the time of this writing.
NYU Grossman School of Medicine (New York City, NY)
NYU Langone’s Department of Psychiatry offers pre-clerkship courses for students to understand the phenomenology and taxonomy of significant psychiatric illnesses.
Students may spend seven weeks learning about the central nervous system via small group seminars, video demonstrations, guest lectures, and patient interviews.
There are two residency programs at NYU: the Psychiatry Residency and the Neurology and Psychiatry Double Board Residency.
The former – open to 15 students – is a four-year program training aspiring psychiatrists in a wide range of mental health conditions and exposure to diverse patient groups.
The latter is a six-year program specializing in neuroscience research and neuropsychiatric care.
NYU fellowship programs are available in specialties like addiction psychiatry, wherein students spend a year assessing and treating various substance use disorders with comorbid conditions like eating disorders, depression, and PTSD.
In the ancillary withdrawal services and virtual buprenorphine clinic rotation, students help patients manage withdrawal from opioids, alcohol, and other sedatives.
Duke University School of Medicine (Durham, NC)
Founded in 1943, Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences is consistently among the top ten United States universities receiving funding from the National Institute of Health.
Research endeavors study topics like the effectiveness of new clinical trials for psychotherapies, novel biomarkers of psychiatric conditions, and innovative tools for investigating cognitive function.
Duke offers a four-year psychiatry residency program and a five-year internal medicine-psychiatry program.
The latter “Med-Psych” option is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected programs, graduating students who go on to become leaders in creating and implementing novel healthcare systems.
Many gravitate to Duke’s continuing education offerings, such as the Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Practical Virtual Course.
This three-day training facilitates participants in monitoring EEGs, evaluating patients, responding to side effects, and considering future applications for the modality.
Stanford University School of Medicine (Palo Alto, CA)
Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is known for its multidisciplinary approach to psychiatric research and education.
While similar institutions may be pathology-focused, Stanford is more concerned with a holistic approach to cultivating general well-being and resilience.
A prime example of Stanford’s approach is evident in the PSYC 243 course: Thriving in Collegiate Athletics – Key Concepts in Student-Athlete Health and Wellness.
Future practitioners consider an athlete’s strengths, values, identity, routines, and coping mechanisms to promote healthy behaviors, interactions, and support networks among athletes.
Many Stanford psychiatry students participate in PsycSIG.
This student group supports students in choosing a residency specialty, organizing welcome events and other social activities throughout the year, and encouraging students to develop their ideas for psychiatry-related events or initiatives.
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pittsburgh, PA)
Students interested in becoming psychiatric professors at accredited colleges and universities may be interested in Pitt’s two-year Clinician-Educator Faculty Development Program.
Highlights include monthly 90-minute sessions covering topics like academic writing, time management, and exemplary teaching while mentors guide participants in creating an independent research project.
Pitt holds annual events, like the Pittsburgh Schizophrenia Conference.
In the most recent iteration, Dr. Fabio Ferrarelli presented on sleep oscillatory abnormalities in psychosis from chronic schizophrenia.
Other unique offerings, like the month-long Boot Camp (Psychiatry Track), support students in reviewing core psychiatric foundations and techniques before transitioning to a residency program.
Four residency programs at Pitt are offered to just over 80 residents and fellows.
The Triple Board Program (TBP) merges initiatives in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry at various local hospitals (many of which are among the top hospitals in the United States).
Participants complete two years in pediatrics, 18 months in general psychiatry, and 18 months in child and adolescent psychiatry.
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (Philadelphia, PA)
Did you know that Penn is considered the birthplace of psychiatry? Perelman was the nation’s first medical school, founded in 1765.
Chemistry chair Benjamin Rush became known as the “Father of American Psychiatry” after developing ground-breaking approaches for treating people with various mental conditions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
A top five recipient of NIH funding, Penn’s research pursuits focus mainly on clinical services. One of the school’s current studies – the Balderston Lab – seeks to understand ways to regulate anxiety.
Psychiatry students work with Balderston and other faculty researchers to examine how threats of shock, alternated with periods of safety, reveal mechanisms between anxiety and other executive functioning processes.
Students gain expertise using neuroimaging and noninvasive neuromodulation to record new insights.
Students at Penn take a range of courses in psychiatric topics, including electives like PSY305: Addiction/Alcoholism.
In this class, students collaborate with patients at the VAMC, Penn Treatment Research Center, and other locations to support them in methadone maintenance, family therapy, and learning about other narcotic antagonists.
Yale School of Medicine (New Haven, CT)
Yale has an exceptional reputation in psychiatry, having contributed numerous treatments for every psychiatric condition.
Yale psychiatry students will inevitably gain clinical experience at sites like the Yale-New Haven private non-profit hospital, the Connecticut Mental Health Center, and the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center.
Student-researchers may participate in clinical studies like a double-blind placebo-controlled investigation of naltrexone for pathological gambling, currently taking place at Yale.
They hypothesize that naltrexone will have a significant effect in reducing the urge to gamble when compared with a placebo.
Yale’s Mood Disorders Research Program (MDRP), on the other hand, is currently evaluating how targeted regulation therapy can help teens with bipolar disorder, how MRI studies in older adults with bipolar disorder change over time, and how to identify new brain marks of suicidal tendencies in adults with mood disorders.
Students in need of support can join the Psychiatry Residents’ Association.
The PRA has supported students for over 50 years in efforts like preparing for Grand Rounds, launching wellness initiatives, and forging community partnerships.
UCSF School of Medicine (San Francisco, CA)
Nearly 10% of UCSF medical students elect to pursue psychiatry as a specialty, representing a higher concentration than the national average.
These students may be enticed by myriad experiential learning and research opportunities, which are abundant at UCSF.
A unique psychiatry initiative offered at UCSF is the Fuerte program, a school-based group program designed to prevent immigrant youth from engaging in detrimental behaviors as coping mechanisms for traumatic stress.
Psychiatry students participate in mental health screenings, conversations with program participants, and preventative strategies to promote general well-being.
Recently, UCSF opened the Nancy Friend Pritzker Psychiatry Building, a 150,000-square-foot facility dedicated to addressing mental health care stigma via programs for children, teens, and families.
Additionally, research staff and students will collaborate in interdisciplinary projects combining anesthesiology, OB/GYN, psychiatry, and other medical topics.
First daughter Ashley Biden, MSW, recently visited the center for a roundtable conversation on trauma recovery.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore, MD)
Johns Hopkin University is arguably, one of the best medical schools in the world. Constantly contributing to the psychiatric field with innovative treatments and facilities, Johns Hopkins recently opened a new center dedicated to treating schizoaffective disorders.
More than two million Americans live with these mental health conditions, and the center seeks to promote the development of antipsychotic medicines, which have proven partially helpful in 70% of patients.
Nearby, in the Center of Excellence, Johns Hopkins psychiatric students test how genetic markers can help practitioners more efficiently identify people who require intensive treatment in response to bipolar disorder.
Psychiatry students may already be familiar with how psychedelics are being tested for efficacy in treating disorders like PSD.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is pioneering the exploration of psilocybin as a remedy for adults experiencing symptoms of major depressive disorder.
Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (New York City, NY)
What’s a day in the life like for a Columbia psychiatry resident? One student might spend the day at the eating disorders unit providing treatment for patients living with bulimia and anorexia. Another might provide outpatient care for Spanish-speaking adults before attending multidisciplinary team rounds.
The Columbia Center for Eating Disorders was founded in 1979 and is one of the world’s best programs dedicated to researching and treating conditions like binge eating disorder.
Patients can receive treatment at no cost in exchange for participating in research studies. This opportunity means they can stay at the facility for an unlimited time.
Advanced psychiatry students may have their own office where they conduct collaborative research, while final-year residents teach classes to junior residents, chair committees, examine psychotherapy cases, and participate in telehealth sessions. Every day is different!
The Emergency Psychiatry Fellowship is a unique opportunity for Columbia students. Within a year, fellows are exposed to various psychiatric emergencies, including suicide, homicide, and substance abuse. They work under the supervision of expert psychiatrists to conduct research and provide treatment to people in crisis.
Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA)
Psychiatry students may publish articles featured in The Harvard Review, the eminent source for ground-breaking research and peer-reviewed studies on psychiatry topics.
The current issue highlights the prevalence of PTSD symptoms following a traumatic spinal cord injury and the primary symptoms of depression in men.
All Harvard psychiatry students participate in a preclinical course entitled “Mind, Brain, and Behavior” (MBB) in addition to a core psychiatry clerkship.
In MBB, students dissect the human brain to understand how people with certain mental health conditions have different features compared to those without a mental disorder.
Harvard offers several residency training options for students with diverse interests, including women’s psychiatry.
The HMS Department of Psychiatry also provides a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry, where fellows spend the first year studying “normal” psychological development before spending the second year engrossed in quantitative aspects of developmental psychiatry and developmental neuroscience.