The Therapist Vs. Psychologist

By Sarah Fader |Updated August 30, 2022

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When it comes to seeking advice and support for the challenges in our lives, we often turn to licensed mental health professionals (therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.). If you want to find an in-person counselor or are seeking help from an online therapist, knowing mental health care titles can be helpful. This article should help you clarify the difference between therapists, psychologists, and other mental health providers.

Find A Licensed Professional For Your Needs

Different mental health professionals have different licensures and degrees. Some types of counselors only require a bachelor's degree, while other counselors require much more education. Finding the right licensed mental health professional to help you begin the therapeutic process is no easy task. But once you find a licensed therapist who is a good fit for you, and with whom you have a good rapport, you’ll be on the path towards healing and feeling stronger. Licensed mental health professionals can offer individualized, effective treatment and therapy plans to meet your needs.

There are many different disciplines that fall under the category of therapy, including but not limited to: guidance counseling, educational therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, rehabilitation counseling, addiction counseling, and career counseling. 

Understanding the difference between a psychologist and a therapist is a research task in and of itself. The good news is that there are mental health care professionals dedicated to providing valuable therapy and helping you develop realistic solutions to life's daily challenges. Most mental health care providers provide a free consultation to discuss your thoughts and feelings so you can find out whether you’re a good match. A good first step is to be sure the person you’re going to consult with is licensed, which you can find out by searching through the licensing board site of the state in which the therapist operates. 

You have the right to see a mental health provider who suits your needs. Many people feel overwhelmed when it comes to the topic of dealing with their mental health concerns, which is completely understandable. Finding the right therapist, taking time out of the workday to drive to an appointment, and sitting in a waiting room full of strangers are all reasons people can feel overwhelmed when thinking about seeking mental health care. This is where online therapy comes in, as we’ll discuss in more detail later. Common areas of concern addressed by a therapist or psychologist include:

Participating in therapy with a licensed professional can help you to mitigate the symptoms associated with the concerns above. Finding the right therapist is critical to learning techniques to manage your thoughts and feelings and change your life. They can provide you with resources, tips, and advice to help your day-to-day challenges. 


A good psychologist, licensed professional counselor, or other mental health professional will explain the therapeutic process step by step, along with their preferred method of therapy. When you begin to search for therapists, take note of what methods your chosen provider practices. Verify that your mental health provider is licensed to practice by visiting their state licensing board online. You can learn more about your chosen mental health care provider by paying attention to their online presence in the form of websites and reviews.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Many psychologists and therapists in the United States are professionally trained to practice cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT. This is a form of therapy that can teach you the skills to identify negative thought patterns and reframe them, which can lead to healthier behaviors and yield positive benefits. Sessions for CBT can occur in a variety of settings, including counseling centers, other mental health facilities, hospitals, or private practices. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be life changing in that it gives people the ability to overcome their fears and make positive changes in their life.

Regardless of the location of your sessions, a good psychotherapist will create an environment where you can feel safe enough to begin working through your challenges and concerns. Participating in CBT can help people feel more empowered when dealing with mental health conditions like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. 

Some mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, occur at the same time. Anxiety disorders can cause intense worry and nervousness, while depression can create low mood and a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities. A therapist can help increase your awareness of the thoughts that may be leading to fear or other negative feelings and help you develop useful coping mechanisms. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. 

Different Types Of Mental Health Professionals

We should mention that there are many types of therapists, all of which cover different areas of mental health. To find the right counselor, learn more about what methods are a good fit for your situation.

Don't be afraid to ask specific questions while you're in the process of finding the right counselor. Ask your prospective therapist about their history of helping people overcome issues that you're struggling with. Inquire about their preferred treatment methods. You may learn that you perform better as a member of a therapy group, instead of participating in one-on-one talk therapy sessions with a therapist. A potential therapist can tell you the difference between the two and recommend which one would be better to treat your mental health concerns. They may also be able to provide a referral or recommendations to another therapist with a specialty applicable to your situation.

Below are a few examples of mental health professionals that practice in the United States based on the types of therapy they provide.

Psychologist

Psychologists have a degree in psychology and often have completed advanced studies. They may also research topics that interest them, independently or as faculty for higher education facilities. Their job is to work with clients and determine treatments based on their observations. 

One of the founding fathers of psychology is Carl Rogers. He is known for changing therapy from being focused on the therapist as the expert to understanding the personality of the client and human relationships. Psychologists have a strong role in providing support and guidance and can help clients make decisions, provide them with support, and clarify their feelings to better determine the next steps. They often work as part of a team when it comes to tackling a client’s concerns, commonly with a psychiatrist. While most therapists can't prescribe medication, a psychiatrist typically can, so these professions complement each other well in treatment.

A psychologist can work in any number of different areas of practice, including social work, marriage and family therapy, and addiction counseling. As you search for psychologists, you may find that they hold varying degrees, such as a PhD, a master's, or a PsyD.

Family Therapist

Family therapy covers adults, couples, and families. Family therapy involves a counselor helping a family deal with concerns they may have. Examples of what family therapy covers include:

  • People feel overwhelmed at times when living with a family member experiencing a mental health condition. The counselor may help the person work through their disorder and/or give the other family members support and advice as they help that person manage their mental illness.
  • The therapist can help adults, couples, and families as a whole better manage conflict. Families can fight a lot, and a family therapist can help them navigate their conflicts in a healthy and productive way. If you’d like to strengthen your family relationships, you might want to find a therapist who has experience in this area.
  • Family therapists may include social workers too. Social workers tend to look at families and see if any issues need to be managed. A social worker can be someone who helps the family grow stronger. 

Overall, family therapists are great for adults, couples, and whole families, providing new ways for families to live together happily. Please note that at this time, BetterHelp does not offer family therapy. However, participating in individual therapy can be incredibly helpful for navigating family conflict.

Couples Counselor

Couples counselors, like licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), could be grouped under the family therapists umbrella, but they can also be thought of in their own category. Marriage and other couples counselors help partners deal with their relationship concerns and can help them work together in a healthier manner. Licensed mental health professionals who work with couples offer a wide variety of services to complement their marriage counseling efforts as they practice psychotherapy.

Couples counselors focus on providing therapy in conjunction with the following:

  • Helping a couple handle one partner’s mental health condition—such as bipolar disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Help solve communication problems. Often, relationships falter not because of any malicious issue, but because partners don't know how to communicate properly. A couples counselor helps the two parties communicate properly.
  • A couples counselor may help couples talk about money together. This can be a big relationship concern, with many couples splitting due to disagreements over finances. While a marriage counselor isn't an accountant, they can help people be more financially honest, learn to communicate about money, and work through a mental health concern that could cause excessive spending.
  • Help with infidelity concerns and similar issues. 

You may feel like your relationship is unable to be saved by a marriage counselor, but you'd be surprised. Rocky relationships have seen amazing recoveries in the past thanks to finding the right couples counselor. You're likely to get a sense for their impact within your first couple of sessions.

Addiction Counselor

A counselor that specializes in addiction can help a person living with substance use disorder or similar concerns surrounding substance use/misuse. An addiction counselor is typically a licensed mental health professional who helps those who have an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol. Many people believe there is shame in seeking a substance use counselor, but that's just not true. Admitting there is a potential mental health concern is the first step towards solving it.

Many people go to a substance use counselor so they can figure out how to start recovery without a relapse. Substance use can lead to many challenges, such as family conflict, depression, anxiety, and other mental health-related concerns. If you or a loved one is battling with substance use, talk to an addiction counselor today. Their mental health services can help you. 

Some people who have an addiction can manage it through outpatient therapy, but those who have life-threatening drug or alcohol addictions may benefit from checking into treatment centers with more thorough treatment options. 

Navigating treatment centers in the United States can be daunting, but they have therapists who are designed to guide you out of addiction in the most comfortable way. Treatment centers allow the patient to deal with addiction in the safest way possible. Also, treatment centers teach you ways to avoid alcohol and drugs and help you to identify any triggers you may have. If you're curious about treatment for substance use, talk to an addiction counselor near you.

Grief Counselor

One of the many mental health services a counselor can offer is helping people cope with grief and loss. A grief counselor can help you when you’ve lost a loved one, be it after an untimely death, a long battle with cancer, or a divorce. You can learn more about the grieving process, including the realization that it's not so black and white, and find healthy ways to grieve the loss of your loved one. Find a therapist who is a licensed mental health professional with a specialty in dealing with grief and loss if you feel stuck or unable to move on in your grieving process.

Child/Adolescent Therapist

A child or adolescent therapist is a licensed mental health professional who works with young people. A counselor with this specialty helps children, adolescents, and their families cope with the many mental health-related concerns they may face in their early years. For children, they may have learning disabilities, behavioral troubles, or social anxiety. A therapist can be helpful for adolescents feeling anxious over growing pains, what comes after high school, getting a job, managing relationships, etc. 

A mental health professional can counsel everyone from young children to elderly adults. For many parents, empathizing with children, adolescents, or even a young adult is a challenge, and a counselor in this category can be very valuable. At this time, BetterHelp does not provide therapy for children. However, BetterHelp has devoted the platform TeenCounseling to serve children between the ages of 13-19 years old (with parent/guardian permission).

Divorce Counselor

Another professional one may talk to is a divorce counselor. Sometimes a marriage counselor or a family counselor isn't enough, and the couple has decided to divorce. Licensed mental health professionals who specialize in divorce counseling can give divorcing couples advice and support, helping them navigate the rocky waters of a separation and divorce.

Divorce counselors may use the collaborative process. The collaborative process is a divorce method that involves working with a professional to come up with an agreement. Settling things in court is expensive and emotionally exhausting. The collaborative process is designed to help divorcing couples reach an amicable agreement. 

Group Therapist

Group therapy involves licensed mental health professionals helping multiple people who are living with similar mental health concerns. You may find therapists through your insurance plan who provide group therapy or by doing an online search. Group therapy can help participants feel free to discuss their issues and solutions for treatment with like-minded individuals.

  • Behavioral health problems. Group therapy may teach others how to manage the way they talk to others, control their emotions, and approach other aspects of behavioral health.
  • Relationship issues. You can feel free to vent to others about any relationship issues you may have. Then, the other parties may talk about theirs. Venting can feel nice, and after you let it all out, you can help one another come up with solutions to any relationship issues you may have.
  • When you work with adults who are on the same page, you can come up with creative solutions.

Social Worker

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is commonly associated with families, but they also work with groups of people and the community at large. A clinical social worker can help almost anyone with their well-being. Social workers are skilled at what they do. Licensed clinical social workers provide services for varied populations, helping patients from many different walks of life cope with areas of concern like depression, addiction, and anxiety. A social worker can work in a clinic, nonprofit organization, or private practice.

Related Fields

Injury

A brain injury can make it harder to function in your daily life, but with just one phone call to the right professional, you can begin to see positive results. Sometimes, the effects of a brain injury can be alleviated when you find the right professional and begin building a strong therapeutic alliance to create positive change in your life.

Contact your health insurance provider to find a counselor who can help you deal with recovering from brain injury-related issues. Many health insurance providers offer mental health services as a part of their plans. You may also seek referrals from your primary care physician. 

Testing

You can request psychological testing from a mental health professional. If you suspect you have a mental health condition, psychological testing can help. Often, there are criteria you must follow to request psychological testing. Sometimes, you may end up with a dual diagnosis, where mental health conditions overlap. A licensed counselor can help you choose the right method of therapy for managing a dual diagnosis.

Forensics

Forensic psychologists use psychology in conjunction with law enforcement proceedings and court cases. This is a field where mental health professionals apply psychology to help law enforcement and legal professionals. If you're interested in law enforcement and psychology, forensic psychology may be the solution for you.

Managed Care

This is a field that involves figuring out how to lower the cost of healthcare (that is for-profit) while being able to provide the same quality services. This may be a job that is worth pursuing if you're curious about how you can help people with both their mental health and their pocketbook. 

Comparisons

The most significant difference between a counselor and a psychologist has to be the fact that a psychologist is a trained social scientist. Individuals who go on to study graduate-level psychology could pursue a PsyD or a PhD. In these programs, one can choose to focus on research, practice, or a combination of the two. While either can practice therapy, both a counselor and psychologist must still spend years under the supervision of other licensed practitioners before being granted a license to practice.

An individual who has a PsyD doesn't do as much research training as a person who is in a psychology PhD program. Someone who is studying in a PhD program in psychology will often have training in both research and practice. People with both PsyDs and PhDs are qualified to become licensed psychologists. 

Counselors also undergo training and need to meet strict requirements to obtain their licenses. A counselor is someone who can give advice and help you with feelings and mental health concerns within a structured support network. As discussed above, therapists might include marriage or relationship counselors, addiction counselors, or those who work within social work contexts. You can also find specialists who work with certain methods like drama therapy or speech therapy under this banner.

A psychologist may also be involved with the American Psychological Association (APA). This is one of the largest groups of psychologists in the United States. The APA has over 100,000 members and offers a find a therapist featured on their website. 

Hopefully, this information helps to clarify the difference between the two titles. There are so many initials and letters out there that it's often hard to know the difference between one type of counselor and another. When searching for the right professional, research is important; that way you know your therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed professional counselor has the right tools to help you. All of these qualified professionals have clinical experience and are there to serve as a listening ear and provide you with the tools to help treat mental health concerns. An online mental health service like BetterHelp gives you a range of professionals to choose from, all from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Can Psychologists Prescribe Medication?

Typically, neither psychologists nor therapists prescribe medications; however, in certain states, they have the right to do this. Since psychiatrists are usually the professionals who prescribe medication, psychologists and therapists usually work alongside them in situations where treatment plans require both therapy and medication. They often provide referrals to each other as well.

Except for the rare instances in which psychiatrists provide psychotherapy, visits with a psychiatrist are usually only short medication checks. In between these meetings, the psychologist or counselor can work with the client in a therapeutic setting. 

Cost

Cost is a critical factor to consider when seeking therapy. A psychologist's fee may be as high as that of a psychiatrist, depending on the state, while therapists can charge a wide range of fees. Some therapists are more affordable, while others may charge high hourly rates. At BetterHelp, membership fees that are about the same as typical co-pays for in-person therapy through an insurance company.

You have a lot to consider as you decide on the type of professional you want to see. Your insurance may limit these choices, but it's up to you to decide. The first thing you need to do is to think about the challenges you want to address. Then, seek out the psychologists or therapists in your area who specialize in these issues. Make sure to consider the cost of treatment, whether you'd like to meet in an office or online, and reviews from other clients before pursuing the initial consultation.

Planning to see someone in your community can take a lot of research and time. The information you may need to compile to choose between all your options can be scattered across the internet. However, if you decide to talk to a counselor at BetterHelp, each of these professionals has a profile that lists facts about their education (master's degree or doctorate degree), experience, interests, and specialty areas.

BetterHelp therapists are trained and accredited psychologists (PhD/PsyD), licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW/LMSW), or licensed professional counselors (LPC). All of them have a master's degree or a doctorate degree in their field. They also possess at least three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience. BetterHelp therapists come from a wide array of different backgrounds, life experiences, beliefs, and cultures. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists, from people who have sought help in the past.

Reviews

"Dr. Kogan amazingly knows how to respond to my concerns in a level of detail that I'm looking for without setting off any of my triggers. She has never, not once, made me more angry or upset about something than I already was initially. Many things irritate me, so this is not a feat to be taken lightly. I feel like I have more insight from a few months of working with her compared to my aggregate progress from years of working with various other therapists." 


"Dr. Barriteau is extremely warm and easy to talk to as well as extremely professional. It seems to be that you get one or the other with many counselors: they're either very professional but closed off or impersonal, or they're very sympathetic and familiar but as a result seem unprofessional. I'm impressed by her ability to navigate that narrow middle ground where she can be both easy to talk to and also trustworthy and helpful. I am comfortable sharing my concerns with her and feel supported and understood. She is an excellent counselor."

Conclusion

Whether you choose online therapy or in-person counseling, the most important thing is that you get the care you deserve. Do it while you're motivated. Make a decision and get ready to change your life for the better; try taking the first step today. You're the author to your own life story. Knowledgeable, supportive therapists are out there, ready to help you achieve a healthier and happier life. 

FAQs

What do therapists do?

Therapists specialize in helping their clients improve emotional and cognitive skills, manage symptoms of mental disorders, and cope with challenges in their everyday lives. A counselor can lead you towards positive change in your life. Many therapists practice multiple therapy types and can help you find which one will accomplish your specific goals. They can also serve as life coaches, helping you understand how to navigate your emotional and cognitive skills to improve your life and treat mental health concerns. 
 
What is the difference between a therapist and a psychologist?

Both therapists and psychologists have at least a master's degree. A psychologist might do research in an academic setting while a therapist is a more general term for trained and licensed professionals who offer treatment and rehabilitation for various mental health needs.
 
Below are some additional commonly asked questions on this topic:

What are the 4 kinds of the counselors?
What are the 3 types of therapy?
Is the counselor a doctor?
What is a counselor supposed to do?
How do I know if I need therapy?
How long does it take to become a counselor?
How can I be a therapist?
What kind of therapy is used for depression?
What is an emotional counselor called?

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