Psychologists, Psychiatrists, & Therapists: What's the Difference?

timthumb.png


When it comes to finding a mental health professional to best fit your needs, there are many types to choose from. It may feel a tad overwhelming figuring out which provider best fits what your needs are. Some professionals may be covered under your health insurance, others may serve in specific settings, and they often have completely different backgrounds in training and education. What do they have in common? Helping you achieve your goals, of course! Additionally, most mental health providers require a higher level of education beyond a bachelors degree, as well as additional training, practice, and exams to obtain their licensure. Here, we’ll outline the difference in care and services to make selecting your next mental health provider easier!

  1. Psychiatrist

    Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors that specialize in mental health and psychiatric care. They can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe and monitor medications, and provide therapy. Some psychiatrists may specialize in specific types of disorders or age groups. Many psychiatrists, as medical doctors, will work with your medical insurance providers for the costs of services. While your primary care doctor or family nurse practitioner can prescribe medication, it may be wise to visit someone that specializes in mental health care. This is true even for more common diagnoses such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression, as a psychiatrist may need to alter various types of medication and dosages to find the best fit for you or your loved one.

    Required degree/licensure: Doctor of Medicine (DO) and licensed within the state that they practice.

  2. Psychologist

    Psychologists are trained clinicians that specialize in psychological evaluations & testing, group/individual therapy, and making mental health diagnoses. What sets them apart from psychiatrists is that they do not have a medical degree and therefore do not prescribe medication. Psychologists often are specialized for the setting in which they work, whether it is a clinic, hospital, school, etc. For example, School Psychologists receive additional training in school systems and provide consultation for teachers and administrators to optimize learning in the classroom. Clinical psychologists that are accredited with medical insurance companies will work with your insurance provider, while others accept cash pay for their services.

    Required degree/licensure: Masters of Art, Science, or Education in Psychology (M.A., M.S., or M.Ed), Educational Specialist in School Psychology (Ed.S), Doctor of Philosophy in a field of Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Ph.D or Psy.D), as well as licensure within their state. *Few states allow psychologists to become licensed with a Masters Degree, while most require a doctoral degree.

  3. Therapist/Counselor

    There are a variety of titles for these masters-level clinicians, including therapists, counselors, clinicians, etc. based on the setting that they work in. They can evaluate your mental health status using a variety of specific training programs. These professionals focus on symptom reduction and better ways of thinking, feeling, and living. They often focus on past grief/trauma, strengthening your relationships, helping you set boundaries, and more, based on your individual needs. These practitioners may or may not be covered by your medical insurance provider based on their licensure and accreditation. You should always check before scheduling a session with a therapist if you are wanting your services covered by your insurance.

    Required Degree/Licensure: Masters Degree in a Mental Health Related Field (M.A. or M.S.) There are a variety of different types of licensure for a masters-level therapist, which include: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor (LCADAC)

  4. Clinical Social Worker

    Like therapists, clinical social workers are also trained in evaluating your mental status and providing therapeutic support. However, what sets them apart is their training in case management and advocacy services. This means they are trained in helping you make informed decisions about your care and can refer you to a number of the specialists listed here, as well as other public services you may benefit from. You may find a social worker in a variety of settings that include: clinics, schools, hospitals, government agencies, and more!

    Required Degree/Licensure: Masters Degree in Social Work (MSW) Like therapists, there are a variety of possible licensure for social workers, which include: Licensed Independent Social Workers (LICSW), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and, Academy of Certified Social Worker (ACSW)

Other Professionals

You may encounter other professionals that have training, certification, and life experience that may be a great fit for achieving your personal growth goals. These professionals may or may not be licensed in your state and often do not accept medical insurance. There are many fantastic programs and personal growth businesses out there, however, it is important to do your research! Before you tap into your finances for these services, research reviews from previous clients, what the outcomes are, and do your best to make sure the company is legitimate.

  1. Certified Peer Specialists

    A peer specialist In often an individual who has personally encountered experience with substance abuse or mental health condition and is trained to provide support to others experiencing the same or similar conditions. They support their peers in recovery by providing hope and strategies to move forward in their own recovery.

  2. Life Coaches

    Life coaching can be considered a form of personal consultation. Life coaches are not therapists in that they are not trained to work with you on things such as unresolved trauma, grief, or mental health diagnoses. However, Life Coaches specialize in targeting your personal and professional goals & taking defined steps in achieving them. They often encourage you to take a deeper look at your current lifestyle patterns and ways in which you can maximize your potential.

  3. Pastoral Counselors

    Pastoral counselors are members of the clergy that have a background in counseling as well. Some may even have a doctoral degree in counseling. Pastoral counselors specialize in integrating spirituality and mental health. Many individuals or couples seek out a pastoral counselor when they are making a life change, such as marriage, or when they are exploring their own individual spirituality or religion. They may be accredited with the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC).


Overall, selecting your mental health provider boils down to what your needs are in the present moment. These needs are likely to ebb and flow over time, which is why many mental health practitioners have a referral list of other providers and specialists to match your needs. While they may have various training and certifications, they all specialize in making you feel and think better! Here are list of guiding questions to best choose your next provider:

images-1.jpeg
  1. Am I looking to explore medication to treat my symptoms? - You may consider consulting a psychiatrist.

  2. Am I looking to have a thorough, formal evaluation to assess my needs? - You may consider consulting a psychologist.

  3. Am I looking for someone to work with me on working on unresolved trauma, grief, strengthen my relationships, clarify my feelings, or set boundaries with others? - You may consider working with a therapist.

  4. Am I looking for an individual to help me advocate for my needs and make informed decisions while receiving therapeutic support? - You may consider working with a clinical social worker.

  5. Am I looking for someone who has been in my shoes, build on my spirituality, or help me set achievable goals? - You may consider working with a peer specialist, pastoral counselor, or life coach.

    Based on your unique needs, you may choose to work with more than one provider at the same time! For example, results from your psychologist’s evaluation may inform your psychiatrist’s medication recommendations. You never have to choose just one!


We hope you are more confident in choosing your provider. As always, Galvin Growth Group is here to serve your needs! Head over to our ‘Services’ page to see what we can do for you!