What is Psychopharmacology?

As a major course that most graduate students pursuing an advanced degree in psychology are required to complete, many individuals with a strong inclination for research consider pursuing a career in psychopharmacology. Practiced by a variety of scientists, physicians, and researchers of differing backgrounds, the field of psychopharmacology is strongly focused on the study of pharmaceuticals or drugs that affect the brain either biologically or psychologically.

Psychopharmacology has the distinct goal of producing medications that are safe and effective for treating mental health concerns, along with the collaborated efforts of psychotherapy. For those who are interested in learning more about this thriving and dynamic field of study, read on to find a clear definition of psychopharmacology and the job opportunities available.

Psychopharmacology vs. Pharmacology

Often confused as the same field, psychopharmacology and pharmacology are highly related in their purpose of creating drugs from natural and artificial sources to trigger an effective response that will improve a health condition. However, it is important to understand that the two fields have distinct focuses that separate the two from one another.

While pharmacology is centered on the study of how substances interact with living organisms for medicinal purposes of physical health, psychopharmacology is the study of how drugs interact with specific target sites in the nervous system to induce changes in mood, thinking, or behavior. In psychopharmacology, researchers and developers are interested in a wide variety of drug classes that produce psychological side effects, such as antidepressants, stimulants, antipsychotics, hallucinogens, benzodiazepines, opiates, and hypnotics.

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Two Major Research Career Pathways in Psychopharmacology

One of the key career paths for psychopharmacologists is in research that is aimed at the development of new pharmaceuticals that will potentially be valuable therapeutic options for the treatment of various psychological health conditions. Requiring a strong knowledge on organic chemistry, neurology, and pharmacology, research developers investigate new substances or create drugs from known substances through a vast understanding of the human brain. Those that are involved within research development often are employed at pharmaceutical companies or manufacturers and private research laboratories for publications like the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Another major career path within the field of psychopharmacology has to do with conducting research to test the effectiveness of newly discovered drugs and existing pharmaceuticals for new uses that have not been scientifically proven yet. In the majority of cases, these psychopharmacologists conduct studies by administering test drugs to human subjects with the contrast of a placebo “control” group. While keeping other relevant factors constant, these testers determine whether the drug can be considered for production based on the safety, toxicity, side effects, and efficiency of the medication.

Overall, as the use of drugs for treating mental health concerns continues to rise, there is expected to be plentiful job opportunities in psychopharmacology. If you have a strong interest in applying your pharmaceutical research or development skills to the specialized study of drugs that affect the brain, it is necessary to receive an advanced Ph.D. degree due to the complexity of the field. Since there are just four advanced degrees for psychopharmacology as a separate discipline, pursuing a doctoral degree in the related fields of genetics, medicine, biochemistry, or chemistry will place you on the right track to a fascinating and rewarding career in psychopharmacology to help individuals alleviate the symptoms of their mental distress.