When it comes to mental health, you may have heard the terms "psychologist" and "therapist" used interchangeably. Despite helping people with mental health, these two designations are not exactly the same. Therefore, it is necessary to understand what is the difference between a therapist and a psychologist so that you can choose the right person to talk to about your mental health struggles.
If you are new to therapy or just simply wondering if you are seeing the right expert, you are not alone. In this blog, you will be able to understand the key differences between psychologists and therapists, which include what they do, what their qualifications are, and how they help people with mental health concerns.
Now let’s dig into the question: Should I see a psychologist or therapist?
What Is a Psychotherapist?
Before getting into the argument of “Do I need a therapist or psychologist,” the first thing is to understand what they exactly are. So, the term "therapist" is a broad category that includes a variety of professionals trained to provide treatment for various aspects of mental wellbeing. A therapist may be a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, or a psychotherapist.
A psychotherapist is a mental health expert who belongs to different categories, including licensed professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. To enter the field, along with various other careers in psychology, obtaining a B.Sc. in Psychology is essential.
In short, the term "psychotherapist" includes anyone who uses talk therapy to address emotional problems. Whether licensed or not, the goal of these professionals is to help people deal with a variety of mental health challenges by providing support and guidance through the therapeutic process.
What Is a Psychologist?
A psychologist is a mental health professional with advanced education and training in the field of psychology. Specifically, a clinical or counseling psychologist is someone who has completed graduate college and earned a bachelor's or master's in psychology and an MPhil in clinical psychology.
After earning their degree, psychologists undergo a clinical internship, followed by national and state exams and the final step involves obtaining licensure from India. Without this licensure, people with a degree and clinical experience cannot practice as clinicians, meaning they cannot evaluate or treat patients. However, they may still use the title "psychologist" in other professional settings, such as research or teaching.
It's important to note that psychologists can have various specializations. While some focus on clinical work and therapy, others may specialize in research or teaching and may have limited experience treating people. This diversity highlights that psychologists contribute to different aspects of the field, addressing not only the clinical needs of people but also advancing our understanding of human behavior through research.
What Is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychologist?
Are you wondering if I need a therapist or psychologist? The distinction between a therapist and a psychologist lies in their educational background, qualifications, and the scope of their practice. While a clinical or counseling psychologist is a type of psychotherapist, not all psychotherapists are psychologists.
Below is a breakdown of whether I should see a psychologist or therapist:
What makes psychologists different?
- Psychologists are mental health professionals who have earned bachelors and masters degrees in psychology and an MPhil in clinical psychology.
- They undergo a clinical internship, pass national and state exams, and obtain licensure to practice as clinicians.
- Psychologists may work in various settings, including private practice, academic institutions, government agencies, or clinical healthcare settings.
- In addition to providing therapy, psychologists can specialize in research and may have expertise in diagnosing and treating severe mental health disorders.
- Clinical psychologists with a specialization in neuropsychological evaluations can conduct diagnostic assessments and testing.
What makes psychotherapists different?
Psychotherapists can have diverse educational backgrounds, with many earning a master's degree. Common titles include marriage and family therapist, behavioral therapist, or professional counselor. They are licensed to provide therapy and can work with people, families, and couples, often focusing on the relationships that shape people's lives. Psychotherapists practice in various settings, including private practices, social service agencies, and hospitals. While they use similar therapeutic methods as psychologists, their expertise may not extend as deeply into severe mental health disorders, and they may not perform diagnostic assessments or testing at the same level as clinical psychologists.
Similarities: Therapist vs Psychologist
Apart from differences and confusion about do I need a therapist or psychologist, they also have some similarities as both practice in the mental health field. So, let’s take a look.
- Both therapists and psychologists provide support and guidance to people facing various mental health challenges.
- Both can figure out and understand mental health problems people might be going through. Whether therapist or psychologist, both are trained to offer treatment and practical strategies to help people - overcome mental health or behavioral struggles.
- Both therapists (depending on the type of therapy) and psychologists are required to obtain certified licensing to practice.
Differences: Therapist vs Psychologist
If you are asking yourself, "Should I see a psychologist or therapist?" Make sure to consider your specific needs, whether these involve handling general life challenges, seeking support for personal growth, or improving your relationships. To understand it better, let's look at the contrast between therapists and psychologists:
Psychologists go to graduate institutes and get a degree in clinical or counseling psychology. However, therapists obtain a master's degree in disciplines such as counseling, marriage and family therapy, or social work. Some psychologists focus on teaching or research, so not all of them have a lot of experience as therapists. While everyone with a psychology doctorate can be called a therapist, not all therapists have the same level of education as psychologists.
Should I See a Psychologist or Therapist?
The key factors to consider when choosing a mental health professional include their education, proper licenses, and clinical experience to ensure that you receive safe and effective care.
When searching for a psychotherapist, it is important to know about their qualifications, as not all of them specialize in the same field. Please note that most psychotherapists and psychologists do not prescribe medications but if you need medicines, you can consult with psychiatrists.
Psychologists (both clinical and counseling) as well as psychotherapists have the training to help people understand their mental health in a better way. But what are their specializations? Therapists provide support to help people find clarity and satisfaction while improving their interpersonal skills and relationships. While psychologists are also skilled in these areas, some choose to go into further specialization to assess, diagnose, and treat serious mental illnesses beyond everyday life issues.
Eventually, the decision to see a psychologist or therapist depends on your specific needs and the nature of your challenges. Here are some specific considerations to help guide your choice:
See a therapist if:
- You are dealing with general life challenges, stress, or relationship issues.
- You want support for personal growth and self-improvement.
- Your primary goal is to handle everyday concerns and enhance your overall wellbeing.
See a psychologist if:
- You are dealing with complex or severe mental health issues.
- You require a proper diagnosis for a mental health condition.
- You need special treatment interventions beyond general counseling.
Cost of Therapist Vs Psychologist
“Should I see a psychologist or therapist?” It also depends on what they charge and what you can afford. Therefore, the cost of visiting a therapist or psychologist depends on various factors, such as a sliding payment scale, insurance coverage, your location, and whether you choose a private practice, community clinic, group therapy, or online services.
Although costs may vary, to give you an idea, services typically begin at Rs 1,500-4000 per hour for traditional therapy and Rs 500-2000 for online counseling. There are no fixed rules on how much mental health services cost, so it's a good idea to understand the pricing before choosing a provider.
Yes, therapists with specific training and qualifications can make certain mental health diagnoses. However, the ability to prescribe medication is typically reserved for psychiatrists.
Yes, clinical or counseling psychologists are trained to assess and diagnose mental health conditions. They may use standardized tests and interviews to formulate a diagnosis. However, similar to therapists, psychologists can also work in collaboration with psychiatrists for medication management if needed.
Yes, a psychologist can be a therapist but the terms are not interchangeable. Therapist is a broader category that includes various mental health professionals, such as counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. On the other hand, psychologists have advanced degrees in psychology and can work as therapists, researchers, teachers, or in various specialized roles within the field of psychology.
Therapist vs. Psychologist: What’s The Difference. Published August 2023. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/therapist-vs-psychologist/
Therapist Vs. Psychologist: What's The Difference. Published November 2023. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/therapist-vs-psychologist-which-one-to-choose/
What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and Therapist? How to Choose. Published April 2023. https://www.healthline.com/health/psychologist-vs-therapist
How to Choose Between a Counselor and a Therapist. Published August 2023. https://www.verywellhealth.com/counselor-vs-therapist-5220991
18 Types of Therapists To Explore as a Career. Published June 2023. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/types-of-therapists
Now&Me articles are written by experienced mental health contributors and are purely based on scientific research and evidence-based practices, which are thoroughly reviewed by experts, including therapists and psychologists with various specialties, to ensure accuracy and alignment with current industry standards.
However, it is important to note that the information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individual circumstances vary, and it is advisable to consult with a qualified mental health professional for personalized advice and guidance.