Psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are three words for mental health professionals. What is the difference? Are Psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists the same thing? This article will explain what each of these mental health professionals do, and which type of mental health services they can provide. After reading this guide, you will have a better idea of which type of mental health professional is more appropriate for your needs.
Psychiatrist- A psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor (MD). Psychiatrists must complete medical school, residency/internship, as well as additional training in mental health, focusing on diagnosing mental disorders and psycho-pharmacology (the “doling out of meds,” so to speak). Psychiatrists are sometimes thought to be the “highest” or “best” of the mental health professionals, but psychiatrists have a limited scope of practice.
Psychiatrists are often called upon to evaluate and diagnose, prescribe psychiatric medications, and manage and monitor medication used to treat mental illnesses. Many primary care physicians will refer a patient to a psychiatrist when the doctor suspects mental illness. Psychiatrists also frequently refer patients to other mental health professionals such as counselors or psychologists for ongoing psychotherapy.
Psychologist- A psychologist usually holds a doctorate degree in the psychology field. The only exception is school psychology, where one can hold a Master’s degree and practice. Psychologists who provide direct patient services (psychotherapy) are usually clinical or counseling psychologists. In addition to the doctorate degree, psychologists must complete a supervised internship upon graduation. Psychologists generally have the most training in actual mental health/psychology.
Psychologists offer psychotherapy services in a wide range of areas. Psychologists frequently work with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, past traumas such as abuse or other tragedy, and much more. Psychologists, like any professional group, vary in their area of expertise.
Therapist- The term therapist is a very broad term. A therapist can refer to a mental health counselor, or anyone providing therapeutic services. There are marriage & family therapists, agency and mental health therapists/counselors, among other types of therapists. Therapists may or may not be licensed, which requires specific educational criteria, examinations, and supervised internship hours.
Should I Go to a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, or Therapist?
The type of mental health professional you should seek for treatment depends upon your individual needs. This article has outlined some of the differences and similarities among psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists. No matter which mental health professional you choose, always remember to ask about their credentials and areas of expertise. This can help ensure you see a professional capable of treating you and your mental health condition. Any of the mental health professionals are ethically bound to only practice within their scope of practice, or the subject-matter that they are qualified and experienced to treat, unless under direct supervision. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists should all refer you to another capable professional if they are unable to properly treat you.
Some patients find that they must interview and get to know several psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists before they find the right “fit.” That is fine. For optimal benefit, you should feel comfortable with your mental health provider.
Disclaimers: This information is for general knowledge/educational purposes only. This article is not meant to replace actual mental health treatment. Licensure laws vary by state. If you or someone you know if in need of mental health treatment, refer to the provided links or call your local mental health agency or doctor for assistance.