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Therapist vs. Psychologist: Recognizing the Differences

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Deciding between seeing a therapist and a psychologist can be a pivotal choice for individuals seeking mental health support.

These professionals provide distinct services and adhere to different educational backgrounds and methodologies.

Understanding the qualifications and treatment scopes of therapists and psychologists is vital for those seeking the appropriate professional for their mental health needs.

Definitions and Roles

Definitions and Roles

Understanding the roles and definitions of therapists and psychologists in exploring mental health professions is crucial.

Each plays a unique role in the field of mental health, with distinct educational backgrounds, responsibilities, and licensure requirements.

Therapists are professionals who focus on providing therapy and counseling to individuals, groups, or families. Psychologists have a broader scope in terms of practice and research within the field of mental health.
Their goal is to offer a supportive environment that facilitates personal growth and helps clients manage a variety of life issues and mental health conditions. They may conduct psychological testing, provide diagnoses, and engage in advanced therapy methods.

Both therapists and psychologists are essential to the mental health profession, and their roles are complementary.

They work with individuals to improve mental wellness using different approaches suited to their specific qualifications and expertise.

Licensure and Certification

Therapists and psychologists undergo rigorous training and examination processes to obtain their credentials. There are some differences between these educational paths:

Therapists may have varying titles, such as counselors, social workers, or psychotherapists, depending on their education and the context of their work.Psychologists typically earn a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D., in psychology.
Typically, therapists hold a minimum of a master’s degree in fields like psychology, social work, or counseling. They must also obtain licensure in their state, which often requires supervised clinical experience and passing a licensure exam.They must also complete an internship, gain postdoctoral experience, and pass a statewide professional exam to become licensed clinical psychologists.
Therapists use a range of psychotherapy techniques to treat emotional and psychological disorders. While some psychologists provide therapy similar to therapists, others may focus on research or teaching.

Practical Application

While their titles and qualifications may vary, both therapists and psychologists share a common goal: to help clients navigate life’s complexities and achieve optimal well-being.

However, the practical application of their expertise often differs due to variations in training, focus areas, and therapeutic approaches.

This section will explore the practical application of therapists and psychologists, examining how each profession utilizes their knowledge and skills to support clients in different contexts.

Employ various therapeutic techniques and interventions to help clients address mental health concerns, improve coping skills, and achieve personal growth and well-being.While some psychologists provide therapy services, others focus on conducting psychological assessments, diagnosing mental health disorders, or researching psychological phenomena.
Often specialize in specific areas such as depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, or substance abuse.May specialize in areas such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, or forensic psychology.
May conduct individual therapy sessions, couples counseling, family therapy, or group therapy, tailoring their approach to meet the unique needs of each client.Often engage in a broader range of activities beyond therapy, including psychological assessment, research, teaching, and consultation.

Areas of Practice

Areas of Practice

The distinctions between therapists and psychologists become evident through their areas of practice, which vary across clinical settings, academic and research domains, and private practice environments.

Clinical Settings

Therapists, including those in clinical social work and counseling psychology, frequently hold a master’s degree and focus on providing therapeutic services to individuals, groups, and families. In clinical settings, psychologists normally possess a doctoral degree, which qualifies them for roles in clinical psychology that often involve the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders.
These professionals often work in hospitals, community clinics, and health centers.They may administer psychological testing and engage in evidence-based therapy.

Academics and Research

The realm of academics and research is primarily occupied by psychologists, especially those with Ph.D. or Psy.D. degrees.

They contribute to the field by conducting researchpublishing findings, and educating future practitioners.

Psychologists may contribute to a variety of studies ranging from cognitive processes to behavioral interventions.

Private Practice

Lastly, both psychologists and therapists can operate in private practice settings.

They establish practices to provide ongoing treatment and counseling sessions to clients.

Therapists in private practice may offer a broad range of counseling services, from individual therapy to marriage counseling, often drawing from diverse theoretical orientations.Psychologists in private practice might specialize in delivering services to specific populations, for instance, in education, where they assist with learning difficulties or behavioral challenges in schools. 

When might one choose to see a psychologist over a therapist?

Diagnosis and Assessment

Choosing between seeing a psychologist or a therapist often depends on several factors, including the nature and severity of the individual’s mental health concerns, personal preferences, and the type of treatment needed.

Some situations where one might choose to see a psychologist over a therapist include:

Complex Mental Health Issues

Psychologists have extensive training in assessing and treating a wide range of mental health conditions, including severe and complex disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe personality disorders.

Individuals experiencing significant psychological distress or requiring specialized interventions may benefit from the expertise and advanced training of a psychologist.

Diagnostic Evaluation

Psychologists are trained in psychological assessment and diagnosis, making them well-equipped to conduct comprehensive evaluations to clarify diagnostic issues and formulate treatment plans.

If an individual requires a formal diagnosis or clarification of their mental health condition, seeing a psychologist for assessment may be beneficial.

How to Find a Therapist or a Psychologist?

Finding a therapist or psychologist who meets your needs and preferences is an essential step in addressing mental health concerns and achieving personal growth.

You can start by researching therapists and psychologists in your area. You can use online directories such as to find professionals who specialize in the type of therapy or treatment approach you’re interested in. There you can find psychologists like Sarah Carpenter, Ph.D. and Regina Lazarovich, or therapists like Matthew Crane and Annel Gomez.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between a therapist and a psychologist?

therapist is a broad term that encompasses professionals who provide therapy.

psychologist specifically refers to an individual with a doctoral degree in psychology who can conduct psychological testing and research in addition to providing therapy.

Can both psychologists and therapists provide mental health therapy?

Yes, both psychologists and therapists can provide mental health therapy, though psychologists have additional training in psychological testing and may hold a doctoral degree.

What qualifications are typically required for psychologists vs. therapists?

Psychologists typically have a doctoral degree in psychology (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), along with a license to practice.

Therapists may have a master’s degree in disciplines such as social work, counseling, or marriage and family therapy, with corresponding licensure.

What types of mental health issues are better suited for a psychologist’s treatment?

Mental health issues that may be better suited for a psychologist’s treatment include complex psychiatric disorderssevere mental illness, or conditions that benefit from psychological assessment and tests to inform the treatment plan.

How do the approaches of psychologists and therapists differ in treating patients?

The approaches may differ as psychologists often integrate research and psychological testing into their treatment plans, while therapists may focus more on providing supportive counseling and specific therapeutic modalities such as cognitive-behavioral or solutions-focused therapy.


Brady-Amoon, P., & Keefe-Cooperman, K. (2017). Psychology, counseling psychology, and professional counseling: Shared roots, challenges, and opportunities. The European Journal of Counselling Psychology6(1), 41-62. Link.

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About the author

Eliana Galindo
Eliana is a dedicated psychologist from Colombia who has gained extensive experience and made significant contributions in child development, clinical psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. Her work as a rehabilitation psychologist with disabled children has been transformative and compassionate. In the child development field, she creates nurturing environments through assessments, interventions, and collaboration with families. In clinical psychology, she supports individuals overcoming mental health challenges with empathy and evidence-based approaches. Inspired by her experiences, Eliana is motivated to write about mental health, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a compassionate and inclusive approach to well-being.

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