What’s the difference among a therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist? For many people these three terms are used interchangeably — but they shouldn’t be. While therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists often work together closely to improve a patient’s mental health, they are distinct professions. Here is some information to help you understand these different medical professions, and help you determine which one is right for your health needs.
What is a psychologist?
A psychologist specializes in the study of behaviors and mental processes. This includes emotional and cognitive processes, how people interact with their environments, and how they interact with other people.
Psychologists help people learn to understand and handle different life problems and mental health issues.
A psychologist diagnoses and treats mental disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. They may provide treatment for chronic problems or acute problems, and they can do so in an individual, family, or group setting. The most common type of treatment used by psychologists is psychotherapy, or talk therapy.
Psychologists help patients handle stressful events, beat addictions, or manage illnesses. People may seek counseling or treatments from psychologists for things such as traumatic experiences, a death in the family, or long-term anxiety.
One of the most notable difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that psychologists are not medical doctors. They do not have a medical degree and are not trained in general medicine or in prescribing medications.
Practicing psychologists must earn an undergraduate major, a masters, and a doctorate in psychology. Additionally, most states require a two-year internship. Practicing psychologists may earn a PhD or PsyD.
What is a psychiatrist?
Like psychologists, psychiatrists specialize in the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental issues. Psychiatrists diagnose mental disorders and focus on chemical imbalances in the brain. They can assess both the mental and physical effects of a disorder.
However, unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors, or physicians, with a degree in medicine. Psychiatrists must complete an undergraduate and medical degree, plus a four-year residency in psychiatry. They may then choose to complete a fellowship in a sub-specialty.
As medical doctors psychiatrists can prescribe medication, and while they may provide some counseling, a psychiatrist might refer a patient to a psychologist or therapist for additional counseling or therapy.
What is a therapist?
In Arkansas, Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Social Workers provide mental health services. Therapists require master degrees and approval of their licensing boards to practice in the mental health field. Therapists provide mental health diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Therapists work in offices, hospitals, treatment centers, and group homes. There are many different types of therapy such as play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, animal-assisted therapy, dialectal behavioral therapy, and many others. Therapists cannot recommend or order medications, but they can refer you for evaluation for medication or other treatments.
When you begin therapy your therapist may ask what brings you to therapy, your concerns, and any symptoms you experience. Your therapist may ask you to complete some questionnaires and learn about your childhood, education, work history, current relationships, and long-term goals. Your therapist will then set goals with you and work to help you achieve them. Therapy can be short or long term depending on the problem/diagnosis and its severity. Therapy can be done in an individual, family, couple, or group setting.
Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists aren’t one and the same, but they often work together closely to help diagnose and treat mental disorders. Together, these mental health professionals can provide the best possible care for mental health or behavioral issues.
A psychiatric evaluation helps determine which mental healthcare professional is right for your specific health needs. Sometimes medication is the best treatment, and sometimes therapy services or counseling will be your best option.
Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry offers compassionate and comprehensive mental health care for children, adolescents, and adults in Northwest Arkansas. The NWA Psychiatry team includes two psychiatrists and a mental health nurse practitioner.
Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry is currently accepting new patients. A referral from your primary care provider is not necessary unless required by your insurance. Call 479-571-6363 to request an appointment with a mental health professional in Northwest Arkansas, or learn more about NWA Psychiatry.
(AKA: Licensed Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist)
A psychologist is someone who has an advanced degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology, specifically, a doctoral degree in Clinical, Counseling, or School Psychology. This advanced degree typically consists of 6-7 additional years of formal education (graduate school), after a bachelor’s degree is completed. Most psychologists receive their degree from a school accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), because such accreditation is a requisite for a state license. Many psychologist conduct research and/or provide psychotherapy. They can diagnose disorders or problems independently in their clients, and the additional years of education and training often result in more experience with advanced, top of the line interventions for clients.
Psychologists are also known for their specialized training in assessment and psychological testing. This is one of the hallmark features that differentiates them from master-level clinicians as well as psychiatrists. Psychologists spend several years learning and administering different psychological tests that assess intellectual and personality functioning, before they are eligible for licensure. Due to psychologist’s advanced skills in assessment, they tend to be very adept at differentiating one psychiatric condition from another, which is important because many clinical disorders can look alike or overlap. The right diagnosis is important for informing treatment planning both for psychotherapy and medication, in case the client decides to seek out medication as part of their treatment.
A psychiatrist is someone who also has an advanced degree (M.D. or D.O.). But, they went to medical school for their degree to learn how to prescribe medications for psychiatric conditions. While psychiatrists are not expected to provide psychotherapy, due to their scope of practice, many are able to provide very brief, supportive psychotherapy to their clients, depending upon their training history.
Typically, clients see their psychiatrist less frequently than their psychologist or master’s-level therapist, because the psychiatrist helps to manage their medications on a monthly or less frequent basis. Psychologists, master’s level therapist, and psychiatrists often work together to collaborate on client care. Because the provider doing therapy with the client will see them longer and more frequently than the medication prescriber, they can often be a helpful source of data regarding symptoms and overall functioning.
Licensed Master’s Level Therapist
(Types: Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW))
A licensed master’s level therapist is someone who also has an advanced degree in psychology, and typically, they spend about two additional years in graduate school to earn their Master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.), once their undergraduate degree is complete. The advanced degrees can include such specialties as a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, School Psychology, etc.
They learn about assessment and intervention techniques for dealing with psychological issues. However, they do not typically receive specialized education and training in psychological testing. Many master’s level therapist do not make psychological disorder diagnoses, and several provide only supportive counseling, versus direct intervention. Due to the differences in educational requirements, master’s degree programs are not accredited by the American Psychological Association, rather, they have their own, varying accrediting institutions.
Psychiatry and psychology are overlapping professions. Practitioners in both — psychiatrists and psychologists — are mental health professionals. Their area of expertise is the mind — and the way it affects behavior and well-being. They often work together to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental illness. And both are committed to helping people stay mentally well.
But there are differences between psychiatry and psychology. And people sometimes find those differences confusing, especially when they are looking for help. To make matters even more confusing, psychiatrists and psychologists aren’t the only mental health professionals you can choose from. There are mental health counselors, social workers, nurses and nurse practitioners, and others who deal with issues of mental health. And if you consider the multiple approaches to treatment, ranging from counseling to various forms of psychotherapy, the whole mental health system begins to look like a maze that’s nearly impossible to navigate.
But here’s a guide you can use to help you make your way through that maze.
Therapists vs. Psychiatrists
The Difference Between Therapists and Psychiatrists
Is a psychiatrist a therapist?
Types of Therapists
- Marriage and family counselors.
- Mental health counselors.
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorders counselors.
- Rehabilitation counselors.
- School guidance counselors.
Clinical social workers
Should I See a Therapist or a Psychiatrist?
Differences in Education
Differences in Training
Therapist vs. Psychiatrist Salaries
Therapist vs. Psychiatrist Checklist
Two Different Professions With the Same Goal
What is the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist?
A therapist is a licensed counselor or psychologist who can use talk therapy to help you treat mental health symptoms and improve how you manage stress and relationships. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose and prescribe medication to treat mental health disorders.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A psychologist has a master’s or doctoral degree and uses various psychotherapy methods to improve patients’ symptoms. A psychiatrist has a medical degree and can utilize many treatment options, including medications, to treat mental health conditions.
Which profession takes the most time?
Becoming a psychiatrist requires the greatest time commitment. Psychiatrists must complete an undergrad degree, medical school and a four-year residency. Many therapists complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and some go through a year or two of supervised clinical training.
Does a psychiatrist or therapist get paid more?
A psychiatrist’s salary is much higher than a psychologist or licensed counselor’s salary. Therapists’ salaries vary significantly depending on their training and area of expertise.