Find Out The Difference Between A Therapist And A Psychologist

By Joanna Smykowski

Updated July 15, 2019

Reviewer Laura Angers

When it comes to getting help for our problems and improving our lives, there's a selection of different professionals out there. Whether you're looking for help or looking for career advice, knowing the difference between the different definitions of counselors is important. This should help you clarify the difference between a therapist and a psychologist as well as a few others.



Do You Need A Therapist Or A Psychologist? Let's Find What's Right For You
Click Here To Get Matched With A Licensed Counselor Today


Psychologists have a degree in psychology and often have taken advanced studies in the same field and even achieved doctorate or Ph.D. study levels. They may also be continuing to study in the same field or do research on topics that interest them along with colleagues or as faculty for higher education facilities. Their job is to diagnose patients and clients and determine treatments based on their observations. They have a strong role in providing support and guidance and can help patients make decisions, understand what they're going through and clarify their feelings to determine their next step better. They often work as part of a team when it comes to tackling a patient's problems, commonly with a psychiatrist. While they can't prescribe medication the psychiatrist can, this pair complements each other well in treatment.


Therapists, on the other hand, can encompass any number of different professions. The term therapist has often been used to encompass social workers, and a variety of counselors. Because of this, they may hold a degree in various fields including an MD, Ph.D. or Masters. While they may also provide guidance and support, a therapist's function is altogether different based on their area of expertise and their level of qualifications.

Therapy: What Is The Difference Between A Therapist And A Psychologist?

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

There are critical differences between a PsyD and a Ph.D. An individual who has a PsyD doesn't do as much research training as a person who is in a psychology Ph.D. program. An individual who is studying in a Ph.D. program in psychology will have training in both research and practice. People with both PsyDs and PhDs are qualified to become licensed psychologists. Additionally, clinical Ph.D. programs are typically harder to get into and are more rigorous due to the scientific training involved.

Psychologists usually diagnose mental disorders and work with doctors to determine patient medications, where a therapist may not. They are part of the recognized healthcare niche whereas a therapist might not even have a license or academic training that a psychologist does. Perhaps you've heard the term "clinical psychologist?" A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who has special training and can diagnose mental illnesses and identify chronic behavioral problems.



Therapists do have their merits, but for different programs. A therapist is someone who can counsel, advise and help you with feelings and decisions within a structured support network. In fact, a therapist can be a lot more flexible because they're not strictly bound by licensure and codes so they work with much more varied techniques. Therapists might include marriage or relationship counselors or those who work with social care to help people with disabilities adjust. You can also find specialists who work with certain methods like drama therapists or speech therapists under this banner.

Hopefully, this clarifies the difference between the two titles somewhat. There are so many initials and letters out there that it's often hard to know the difference between one type of therapist and another. When searching for the right professional for you, research is important; that way you know your therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor has the right tools to help you. Sites like BetterHelp give you a range of professionals to choose from all in one location.

Participation In Med Checks

Psychologists usually don't prescribe medications; however, in certain states, they can. Whether they prescribe medications or work with a psychiatrist who does the prescribing, the time they spend with the client is valuable in determining the course of treatment. Except for the rare instances in which psychiatrists provide psychotherapy, visits are usually only 15-minute med checks. During this amount short time, the psychologist can explain the client's symptoms succinctly in more clinical terms that the client can. This allows the client to get the most out of that brief visit and also feel heard and seen.

A therapist, on the other hand, is usually not present during med checks. Therapists may notice symptoms, but they aren't necessarily well enough trained to determine what is significant or relay that information to the psychiatrist. What a therapist might do, though, is to encourage you to think ahead of psychiatrist visits. They might help you formulate questions you want to ask so that you say what you want to say the least words possible.

Attitudes Toward Medications

Therapists may be against medications altogether or understand the value of them completely. This depends more on the individual therapist rather than their occupation. However, psychologists, as scientists, are more likely to approve of medications and be skilled at talking to psychiatrists about them. Certainly, a therapist might suggest you speak with a psychiatrist and may actually refer you to one. Yet, a therapist's job is less about controlling symptoms of mental disorders than it is about teaching you coping techniques and guiding you as you explore your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.


Because a psychologist usually has more education and training, their fees are typically much higher than the fees of therapists, especially those with little or no education or training. In fact, a psychologist's fee may be as high as that of an M.D. psychiatrist. Therapists may charge within a wide range of fees. Some therapists are affordable for anyone, while others may charge exorbitant fees. The therapists at BetterHelp charge fees that are about the same as typical as copay through your insurance company.

Insurance Approval

Your insurance company determines which of these professionals you are covered to see. If you have a mental disorder, you may be required to see a psychologist. The company may determine that a therapist doesn't have adequate training to help you with your condition. However, if your mental health issues are mild or situational, your insurance may cover the least expensive option only, which would be a therapist.

Another factor insurance companies determine what kinds of therapists they cover. For example, your insurance might not cover marriage counseling, career counseling, or other specialized types of therapy. If you'd rather be in charge of deciding which type of professional to see, you can choose a counselor at BetterHelp. There, you can avoid the confusion and frustration of dealing with an insurance company at all. The fees are affordable, and you can start therapy quickly.


Do You Need A Therapist Or A Psychologist? Let's Find What's Right For You
Click Here To Get Matched With A Licensed Counselor Today



In several different ways, each of these two types of professionals (therapist or psychologist) concentrates more on one aspect of mental health than another. Psychologists are more likely to focus on signs and symptoms of mental illness, whereas therapists focus more on helping you solve problems that may be new to you but could also be quite common in the larger scheme of things. Although therapists and psychologists do both of these things, it is the focus that's different.

Another way therapists differ in focus is that the psychologist may consider your problem more in terms of the way the brain works, while the therapist may be more in tune with the practical aspects of your problems. The psychologist may focus more on rewiring the brain, while the therapist is more concerned with helping you understand and manage your feelings and make better life choices. Again, both of them do all of these things, but it's the emphasis they put on each of the aspects of your life that reveals the difference between the two.

Choosing Your Professional

You have a lot to consider as you make your selection of the type of professional you want to see. Your insurance may limit these choices, but otherwise, it's up to you to decide. The first thing you need to do is to think about the issues you want to address. Do you feel like you might have a serious mental illness? If so, a psychologist may be the better option for you. Do you instead have practical problems with your daily life? In that case, a therapist might be right for you.

Also, think about what you prefer. Would you rather go into therapy with someone who is more scientific about your treatment or someone who has a more personal approach? In either case, their profession will have a bearing on what will work best for you.

In addition to deciding whether to see a therapist or a psychologist, you also need to choose a specific person to see. This can take a lot of research and time if you plan to see someone in your local community. The information you need to compile in order to choose between all your options might be scattered across the Internet. However, if you decide to talk to a counselor on, each of these professionals has a profile that lists facts about their education, experience, interests, and specialties.

Getting Started

Starting therapy in your local community can be a long process that ends in a counseling relationship that doesn't suit your needs. You can choose a professional on BetterHelp and begin counseling quickly. The process is easy and completely user-friendly. If one counselor doesn't work for you, it's a quick process to get set up with someone new. While online therapy is not recommended for people with serious mental illnesses, it might be just what you need to get you started toward the life you want most.



Whether you choose online or local counseling, the most important thing you need to do is get help right away. Do it while you're motivated and before your problems get worse. Make a decision and get ready to change your life for the better; get started today -

If have any questions, please reach out to us at or check us out online at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest & Tumblr.

If you need a crisis hotline, please see below:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) - 1-800-656-4673

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233

NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) - 1-800-950-6264

Previous Article

Understanding The Difference Between A Therapist And Psychiatrist

Next Article

The Most Effective Psychotherapists Are Those Who Really Listen
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Counselor Today
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.