How to Become a Psychopharmacologist

Psychopharmacology is the study of the effect drugs have on a person’s behavior, mood, sensation, and thoughts. The discipline focuses on a number of substances, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, alcohol, marijuana, and stimulants. Psychopharmacologists are typically professional psychologists who have undergone a training program in medication management. Professionals who have this specialization work with physicians and other healthcare providers to coordinate a patient’s care.

What degree is required to become a psychopharmacologist?

Psychopharmacologists may need at least a master’s degree to practice in medicine management. However, since many psychopharmacologists are also psychologists, they need to have a doctoral degree to be licensed by their state. Some schools offer a master’s degree in psychopharmacology, which gives students instruction in various types of medications and prepares them for the Psychopharmacology Examination for Psychologists. This exam, administered by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) College of Professional Psychology, is not required to work as a psychopharmacologist. Instead, the APA created the exam for use by state and provincial psychology licensing authorities to implement laws that permit the prescription of psychotropic medications.

Although a master’s degree in psychopharmacology may help prepare a student for the exam, the APA requires applicants to have a doctoral degree in psychology, provision of health services in psychology, a current psychology license that is in good standing, and completion of a postdoctoral program that features intensive didactic instruction.

A clinical psychopharmacology postdoctoral program is available for practicing psychologists who want to increase their knowledge of psychopharmacological medications. This program is ideal for psychologists who want to improve their practice and work effectively with primary care physicians to coordinate care. It is also part of a movement to enable psychologists to prescribe medication to their patients.

How long does it take to become a psychopharmacologist?

A master’s degree in psychopharmacology may take at least two years to complete. During that time, students may be required to complete clinical sessions in addition to classroom work. A doctoral degree in psychology may take four to seven years of study, and a postdoctoral psychopharmacology program may require more than two years of full-time study to complete. Students can expect to take courses in neuroscience, clinical pharmacology, professional issues and practice management, and neuropharmacology at this level. Students may also examine case studies, and prior to graduation they may be required to complete the Psychopharmacology Examination for Psychologists.

What is a psychopharmacologist’s salary?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisics does not keep specific salary statistics for psychopharmacologists. It does report that psychologists, which includes clinical, counseling, school, and all others, earned a median annual salary of $68,640 in May 2010, with the top 10% of earners making more than $111,810 a year. Keep in mind that these statistics are no guarantee of actual salary, which is also determined by employer, location, the condition of the economy, the employee’s skills and credentials, and other factors.