What is the Proficiency Area of Psychopharmacology?

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According to the American Psychological Association, in addition to the fifteen acknowledged specialty fields in psychology there are six areas of proficiency and practice. One of these proficiency areas is Psychopharmacology.

What is Psychopharmacology?

According to the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) psychopharmacology is the “study of the use of medications in treating mental disorders”. This is a field with extreme complexity due to changes and detailed scientific understanding. Therefore, practitioners in this field must maintain a schedule of continuous study to keep current with advances, changes and the evolution of medicine. Psychopharmacologists must understand all the clinically relevant principles of pharmacokinetics (what the body does to medication) and pharmacodynamics (what the medications do to the body). This includes an understanding of:

  • Protein binding – This is how available the medication is to the body.
  • Half-life – This refers to how long the medication stays active in the body.
  • Polymorphic genes – These are genes that vary widely from person to person and affect the way medicine acts in the body.
  • Drug-drug interactions – Meaning the many ways in which medications can affect one another.

How Do I Become Proficient in Psychopharmacology?

In actuality, any physician who treats patients with psychotropic medication is technically a psychopharmacologist. All physicians who have completed residency training must possess a strong understanding and expertise in pharmacology, including psychopharmacology. In order to possess the proficiency in this field, a psychologist or physician must go through training in advanced psychopharmacology. By specializing in psychopharmacology through academic education, Continuing Medical Education (CME) or self-study, a medical professional can become proficient in psychopharmacology. Some individuals seeking a higher level of proficiency will complete the ASCP’s Examination in Advanced Psychopharmacology. This is an advanced exam, which covers all areas of psychopharmacology and requires a complete understanding of the latest science with relevance to clinical practice. The exam must be taken every 5 years.

Where Can I Secure Employment Once I Am Proficient in Psychopharmacology?

Psychopharmacologists can work in many settings. They are often employed in hospitals or mental health care facilities. They may be found conducting research or teaching at the college level. They can be a part of a private practice of physicians. Another popular setting for employment is with a pharmaceutical company.

What Salary Can I Earn in Psychopharmacology?

According to the 2013 edition of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook, the median annual salary earned by psychiatrists is $178,950. The BLS does not collect specific data on the field of psychopharmacology, however the majority of these professionals are psychiatrists.

While some professional psychologists can be proficient in the area of psychopharmacology, they do not have the ability to write prescriptions for their patients. Therefore the bulk of these professionals are physicians and psychiatrists. The field required a great deal of study and training. Those individuals who are interested in the use of medications to treat psychological disorders may want to consider the proficiency area of psychopharmacology.

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