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  • Writer's pictureRachel Packer

Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Therapist... What's the Difference?

What Is The Difference?

Seeking help from a mental health professional can seem like a daunting task. There are so many terms and degrees that it can be confusing to choose the best help for yourself or a loved one. Below is an easy guide to understanding the difference between some of the most well known professions in the field.


Therapist/ Counselor

• The word “therapy” can be used interchangeably with “counseling”!

• Any professional who facilitates therapy or counseling is a “therapist” or “counselor”.


Psychiatrists (M.D. or D.O)

• A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health and/or substance use disorders.

• Only psychiatrists can prescribe medication.

• Typically psychiatrists meet less frequently with their patients and for less time than other professionals because their main goal is to understand symptoms and prescribe medications.

• Becoming a psychiatrist involves completing medical school and residency, with special training in psychiatry.


Psychologist (Ph.D / Psy.D)

• Psychologists treat mental disorders with therapy and some specialize in psychological testing and evaluation.

• There are two main types of degrees that focus on either research (Ph.d) or clinical practice (Psy.D).

• Becoming a psychologist requires a doctorate degree, writing of a thesis, completion of supervised training and passing a licensure examination.


Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)

• Licensed counselors are trained to work with everyone: individuals, families or groups, on any issue that impacts mental health.

• They can be employed by all kinds of groups, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient therapy centers and inpatient facilities.

• Becoming an LPCC requires a master’s degree, completion of supervised training and passing a licensure examination.


Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

• Marriage and family therapists focus on families and individuals whose problems are social and relationship based.

• MFTs work in similar settings to other mental health professionals, including hospitals, private practice and outpatient facilities.

• Becoming an MFT requires a master’s degree, completion of supervised training and passing a licensure examination.


Social Worker (MSW/ LCSW)

• Social workers help people cope with challenges in their lives.

• They also research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare.

• Becoming a LCSW requires a master’s degree, completion of supervised training and passing a licensure examination.

• Professional counselors, marriage and family therapists and social workers all perform very similar jobs.

• All three professions can provide therapy to individuals, groups, families and children.

• One difference is that some MFT’s choose to only provide couples/ marriage counseling, while some social workers choose to only engage in advocacy work.

• A large part of why I chose to be an LPCC is that I am not limited to one population or specific location.

Ask questions if you need help locating the professional who can best help you and your family!


Resources:

• Bureau of Labor Statistics: www.bls.gov

• American Psychiatric Association: www.psychiatry.org

• Good Therapy: www.goodtherapy.org/


Are you dealing with an aggressive child, a hyperactive adolescent, or a defiant teenager? Contact me today to find out if therapy would be a good fit for you and your child.

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