What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Therapist?
When deciding to get some help from a mental health expert, you might find a variety of professionals with different titles and wonder which would be best for you.
This article will break down the difference between two such professionals: psychologists and therapists. Both of these professionals are there to help with mental health issues. But what are their specific areas of expertise, and which of the two would you benefit from the most?
This article will give you the information you need to determine which of the two you should reach out to for help. Additionally, we will discuss the different types of mental health professionals so that you can choose the one that’s right for you.
Psychologists and Therapists Both…
…have degrees in the mental health field. They can be Master’s, PhDs, and also have specialized fields. A state board must license them both before they can open a practice.
…provide support and guidance for their clients based on their needs. This can be done in a variety of ways.
…will follow a specific code of ethics that keeps your information confidential and can help you make good behavioral changes.
Psychologists and therapists both are mental health practitioners who have been licensed to work with individuals looking for mental health counseling and treatment. While neither of these professionals will prescribe medication, they may work closely with a psychiatrist and form a team to help ensure their client is appropriately cared for.
Psychologists and therapists will also work side by side to ensure proper care. While each will likely have their own caseload and see separate patients, they may discuss cases together and share the most current treatment plans and options.
Whether you seek psychological services from a psychologist or therapist, you can expect quality service from any licensed professional. For the most part, you will likely look for a psychologist or therapist who has experience in your area of need, whether that’s anxiety, sleep, relationships, depression, or others.
…have a specialized degree in psychology and have undergone hours of hands-on training before they received their degree. They study the mind and how it works, look into case studies involving people with different psychological illnesses, and learn various methods to deal with each illness.
…must have continual education. There are always new and exciting treatment options that become available as the study of psychology evolves. Psychologists who wish to remain licensed are required to learn these new developments.
…use treatments based on research. They are constantly digging deeper into how the mind works and are experts at diagnosing patients based on clinical research.
…often works with a psychiatrist to prescribe medication to a patient based on their diagnosis.
Psychologists typically need a doctorate level degree such as a Ph.D. or Psy D to practice. These professionals have reached the highest level of education and either work for a psychological clinic or maybe even own their own clinic. In some cases, psychologists may hold a Master’s degree, but they are not necessarily called psychologists per se; they are more likely referred to as counselors or specialists.
Yet, the level of education depends on the particular field in psychology. For the most part, clinical psychology requires a doctoral degree to practice, but school psychologists may need just a specialist degree to practice in schools. Depending on the service you need, look for a psychologist with a degree in your specific area.
For example, a psychologist may have studied child psychology and mainly work with children. Or, the psychologist may have studied substance use directly and is more suited to work with individuals who have suffered from alcohol or drug dependency. Still, if that psychologist finds that one of their colleagues is more suited to your specific needs, they may refer you for specific treatment.
…can include psychologists and other groups of people that also help the mental health of a person through other means. They can be marriage counselors, family therapists, psychiatrists, and life coaches.
…could hold degrees in various fields and specialize in dealing with certain behavior types like substance abuse, social work, or sex therapy.
…usually uses behavior therapy to improve the lives of their patients. This includes talking out their problems and working together to find a solution and help the patient with self-awareness so they can identify the emotions they are feeling and learn the most effective way to deal with them.
Therapists may work with individuals, groups, couples, children, and more. While psychologists may do more of the prescribing or initial treatments, the therapist will likely use questionnaires to help you learn the most about yourself. You will probably answer questions about your childhood, education, work history, relationships, goals, and personality.
Therapists cannot prescribe medication, but they may refer you to get an evaluation for medicine or other more intense treatments. Mostly, the therapist will work in offices, hospitals, schools, treatment centers, and group homes to provide therapy. They may use various types of therapy including, but not limited to, behavioral therapy, animal-assisted therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, play therapy, and more.
What Does a Psychiatrist Do?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed medical school and are qualified to prescribe medication for mental health-related purposes. Psychiatrists will typically manage medications and prescribe treatments for their patients. Although they usually do not do the talk therapy or treatments themselves, they will work closely with psychologists or therapists to ensure that the treatment is being carried out.
Quite often, patients will seek out a psychiatrist before a therapist. Mental health professionals recommend doing the opposite as it’s more important to combat the source of distress.
Other Mental Health Professionals
Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are only just some types of mental health professionals. When searching for a mental professional, you’ll likely run into other titles. To help you find the right type of professional, we’ve list of them here and defined precisely what they do.
Mental Health Practitioner
Mental health practitioners usually have at least a Bachelor’s degree, but most commonly, they will have a Master’s degree. If the mental health practitioner does not have a Master’s degree, they usually have to have a significant number of hours of working with individuals who have mental health problems. While mental health practitioners do not always do counseling, they may assist in other therapeutic practices and treatment centers.
Mental health practitioners may work in group homes, treatment centers, clinics, inpatient centers, outpatient centers, and more. The mental health practitioner may work underneath therapists and psychologists to help deliver and manage specific mental health issues.
Clinical Social Worker
Clinical social workers are trained to evaluate mental health and use therapeutic techniques to support specific training programs. Typically, they are trained in case management and advocacy services. Clinical social workers may also work with psychological professionals, but they generally have a Master’s degree in social work. They will likely work with various groups including children, adults, or other individuals who suffer from substance abuse.
A clinical social worker usually has some sort of licensure by their state. For example, a clinical social worker may have one of the following titles:
- LICSW, Licensed Independent Social Workers
- LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- ACSW, Academy of Certified Social Worker
Certified Peer Specialist
Certified peer specialists are generally individuals who have lived with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. While they are not necessarily licensed psychological professionals, they typically work with individuals who currently suffer from a specific disease.
But just because they are not licensed does not mean that they are not trained. Quite often they’re trained to work with individuals and certified to assist with setting goals and developing their patients’ strengths. They will likely work with therapists and other mental health professionals to provide support, mentoring, and guidance.
Which is Best for You?
Before you decide on a psychologist or therapist, there are a few things you should always make sure of.
First of all, check their credentials. No unlicensed psychologist or therapist should be an option. Your mental health and privacy are critical, and you want to ensure that you are trusting them with a professional.
When searching for a mental health counselor, you will want to make sure that your online therapist or psychologist has at least one of the following titles:
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
- Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor of Mental Health (LPCC)
- Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
- Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP)
Second, decide what type of treatment you are comfortable with. Do you want to take medication, or are you looking for a more behavioral solution to your mental health problem? Let your mental health professional know up front what you want and make sure they align with your preferences.
Lastly, your therapist or psychologist should be someone who puts you at ease. Personalities are important when choosing who you want to talk to about delicate matters. If you don’t feel comfortable around this person, how will you accept help from them?
So, should you choose a therapist or a psychologist? The choice is up to you.
If you want someone who will use data and research to diagnose and get to the root of your problem, choose a psychologist. If you would prefer to find someone to help you make changes in your lifestyle and habits to better your mental health, choose a therapist.
Now that you know what you should look for in a therapist or psychologist, it’s time to find the best online therapy program for you. Luckily, there are many different options for online therapy, and our experts have reviewed some of the best currently available. Check out our expert guides to find the right online therapy program for you.
*THE ABOVE IS NOT, AND SHALL NOT BE CONSIDERED AS, A PROFESSIONAL OR MEDICAL ADVICE.