Therapist Vs Psychologist: Difference In Counseling

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

An introduction to the differences between a therapist and a counseling psychologist.

Do You Need Help Determining If A Therapist Or Psychologist Is Right For You?

Difference Between Professions

Choosing to seek mental health care like in individual or family therapy means you're prioritizing your own health and well-being, whether you see a counselor vs a psychologist, a psychiatrist vs therapist, or an online therapist. Mustering up the courage to begin finding psychotherapy is no easy task, whether you decide to see a therapist, a psychologist, or another professional in the mental health field. Talking to a therapist benefits many people, though many wonder the difference in a counselor vs therapist. Both mental health professionals work in the mental health field as mental health practitioners with supervised clinical experience. Taking part in talk therapy sessions with a therapist or psychologist is something many individuals can benefit from, and it's a good idea to learn the difference between psychologist and therapist in meaning. It's important to find a professional who can achieve the best results for you. 

This article will cover the main differences between a therapist and a psychologist. Don't be intimidated-we'll walk you through therapist or a psychologist and all the details. The differences between a therapist and a psychologist can be confusing. A psychologist is a social umbrella term for an individual with a Ph.D. or a Psy.D in the field of clinical psychology. A Ph.D. that clinical psychologists have an advanced specialization in the practices of talk therapy and behavioral therapy.

What Is A Psychologist? The Difference Compared To Therapy Or Counseling

General psychologists focus on a range of counseling psychology-related issues including providing individual therapy, marriage family therapy, mental health therapy, group therapy, or other types of mental health therapy. (Therapists vs psychologists and other licensed clinicians can't act in the role of an individual group or family therapist.) Psychiatrists and psychologists can work either as clinicians, researchers, or both. For example, counseling psychologists specifically treat psychological conditions. Psychiatrists and psychologists often work hand-in-in to provide holistic care solutions and both counseling services treat the entire patient.

One of the main differences in psychiatry vs psychology is the ability of the clinician to prescribe medications. It is important to understand these differences between a therapist, psychiatrist, and psychologist when you're seeking therapy. This is especially true if you're seeking therapy for an ongoing mental health condition that requires you to find a doctor for medical case management. In the case of a therapist or a psychologist, a psychologist will be able to prescribe medication.

Based on testing, psychiatry and psychology professionals the care of clients who are using medication management as a means of treatment therapy. Once mental health medications reach the desired dosage, a psychiatrist may refer the patient to a psychologist or therapist to continue treatment.

Therapist and Psychiatrist: What Is The Difference In Each Counselor?

One of the differences between therapist definition and psychologist definition is a social difference in the amount of practice that each has had after receiving a Master's Degree or higher and their degrees as students in general. A therapist generally has a master's degree. Degreed psychologists focus on providing marriage family therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy for resolving clinical-social issues. This is one of the main differences in a therapist and a psychologist. 

Another difference is in their roles in relation to patients. While psychologists and therapists provide support and guidance, psychiatrists focus on treating psychiatric medical issues related to mental illness as licensed medical professionals like primary care physicians. Therapists, on the other hand, focus on providing mental health and emotional support which can include substance abuse therapy and family therapy sessions. Psychologists can work as a bridge between licensed clinical social workers, marriage family therapists, medical doctors, and other human services workers.

They also have different licenses. Therapists and psychologists have an advanced licensed to practice clinical psychology that involves complex individual and family therapy. Therapy may also work closely with social workers. Social workers are degreed professionals who provide important links and expertise about local community services or groups. A social worker is a of your treatment team that can help get you connected with resources for food, shelter, housing, and mental health services like substance abuse therapy that area available in your area.

The key to understanding the differences between a therapist and psychologist is to look at their credentials, education, and training. Psychologists include a group of professionals who can provide social work services, licensed marriage and family therapy, and individual therapy. They may be licensed to prescribe medication (in a few states) and can provide diagnostic assessment and testing. 

Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors and mental health professionals that have completed medical school and earned a medical degree. They rarely deal with issues that relate to social work unless they are a of a treatment team for a patient who has social work-related needs. These medical doctors who specialize in providing medical treatments -- including mental health medications, also rarely engage in marriage or family mental health therapy. The majority have careers focused on assessment and diagnosis for severe mental health disorders that also require medical treatment. As a result, you may often find that they often make referrals to psychologists for managing a marriage, family therapy, and individual issues.


Relationships between the therapist and the client are often called a therapeutic alliance. It's important to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with long-term. With psychology subscription services (like those provided by, you have the option to find new psychologists at any time if your current therapy isn't meeting your needs.

Your provider should provide a safe space, a listening ear, and practical life advice. The success of counseling also depends on the client's willingness to engage with the psychologist. Licensed mental health counselors can provide clinical services using therapy modalities like CBT, forensic psychology, and family mental health counseling (for things such as family systems, domestic violence survivors, or provide counseling for other treatment areas within a family unit). Your licensed psychologists are socially and professionally trained specialists who can conduct psychological testing and assessment services.

Testing And Diagnoses

In addition to therapist or a psychologist, you may consider the differences between therapists and clinical psychologists, which is that psychologists can work on the results of psychological testing to determine if mental illness is present. Following is a list of common mental illness disorders that may require a medical provider to prescribe medication and therapy as a means of treatment.

  • Clinical depression

  • Schizophrenia

  • Panic disorders

  • Bipolar disorders

  • Personality disorders

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Addiction
  • Panic disorders

  • Post-traumatic stress disorders

Most, if not all, of the above clinical-social disorders, are often treated with a combination of medication that is prescribed when you find a psychiatrist, psychological care, and therapy programs. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are examples of two types of behavior therapy that may be used in mental health and substance abuse treatments.

Why Therapy?

Overall, four in 10 American adults have seen psychologists at some point in their lives to improve their mental health. Having psychologists is now a social norm, something we can all benefit from. The benefits of mental health therapy for psychological health and substance abuse are numerous. People who take part in individual mental health therapy, family therapy report increased happiness and the ability to cope with life's challenges healthily and productively. After sessions with a reliable and professional mental health provider, people also report an increased sense of relief from emotional symptoms like anxiety. Whether you see a therapist or a  psychologist you'll likely feel better after therapy, as it will give you new approaches to think and process your everyday experiences.

A counselor and psychologist can provide people in crisis with a full spectrum of human services related to mental health and substance abuse disorders. Mental health counselors and therapists use techniques like CBT, clinical or forensic psychology, and many more to diagnose, treat, and support community .

When you see a psychologist, it is important for them to understand your feelings. It's their job is to identify and clarify the nature of your emotions. Then, they use passive treatments and/or medications to bring your emotions under control.

However, when you see a counselor, their job is to guide you and support you as you examine your own feelings. They may prompt you to think about how you feel or help you to describe your emotions, but you are the one who gets in touch with your own feelings. Your counselor may suggest ways for you to understand and improve sad or angry feelings, but you are the one who chooses whether to do anything and if so, what that is.

Therapeutic and Therapy Decisions With A Psychologist

A counselor and psychologist will assist you in making decisions about your approach to counseling, as will a therapist and psychologist. However, you are still ultimately in charge of your own life (unless you are a danger to yourself or others). The psychologist is similar to a medical doctor in that they determine what you need to do to improve your mental health (however, it is important to note they can not prescribe medication for illnesses like a medical doctor can). This includes deciding what types of counseling are likely to work best for your situation. A key difference, however, is that when it comes to decisions like these, you are less involved in these decisions than you would be with a counselor.

Psychologist Counseling Vs. Therapy

Another one of the differences between a counselor and a psychologist is that a counselor encourages you to think of answers to your own problems and behaviors. Both psychologists and professional counselors may offer ideas, but you are more clearly in charge of coming up with possible solutions and considering which treatment options you want to try with your counselor. Because some problems discussed with a counselor are short-term or mild, you have more leeway to choose the course you think is best.

After you have been in counseling for a while, you might notice that making decisions becomes easier. This may happen because the process gives you ample opportunity to practice exploring options, thinking out whether they will be helpful, making your own decisions, acting on them, and learning from the experience.

Psychology And Medicine

When it comes to your happiness, the differences between a therapist and psychologist are few. Both are there to help you, but you may find a noticeable difference in the way you are treated between the two. A psychologist has the tasks of overseeing your mental condition and being responsible for your improvement. They may also be able to help you find a doctor who can provide medication if they are within your health network.

The counselor/client relationship is slanted in a way that gives the client more power than the counselor, but when finding a counselor, you may feel your status is nearly equal to the counselor. You work together to identify problems, describe feelings, and find solutions. The counselor is there to help you, but you may get a sense that you are more in control, particularly in interpersonal counseling or client-centered counseling. Many people feel more comfortable with a counselor because the relationship does not seem so lopsided.

Psychology Art And Science In Therapy

In nearly every occupation, there is both an art and a science. The same is true with both psychologists and counselors. A psychologist is a social scientist. They have learned about the science of the human mind by studying and/or conducting research on mental processes. They focus on the scientific method more than they do on the more intuitive, artistic side of counseling. Like medical doctors, they rely on what the research has shown works for clients with similar conditions to yours.

A licensed therapist may use the results of scientific studies as a basis for much of their work. However, the counselor may take a more artistic approach to therapy. A human mind is a very complex system, which cannot always be understood by a study examining a limited number of variables. The counselor sees the person as a whole human being. No study can account for every factor in the human mind and many people find that this intuitive approach makes more sense to them. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing a variety of life's challenges.

Therapist Reviews

"Jacques is a very good listener and he has a lot of knowledge and experience about counseling psychology and empathy. Unlike most of the therapists, he is more focused on the solutions than the reasons from the past. He understands me even when I can't express myself very well and after every session, I was told by my friends that I look happier and more positive."

"In the past, I have gone to at least five different therapy centers and therapists. I feel very grateful to have been connected to Audra by BetterHelp because she is the first therapist that has actually made me feel progress toward getting through past traumatic experiences. She is clearly very skilled and knows exactly what she is doing. Not only is she talented in her field but she also has a strong sense of empathy that makes you feel that she actually cares. I am grateful to be able to seek guidance from her and will continue to do so because it has without a doubt helped me grow and heal. Immediately you start seeing results while working with Audra on your mental health goals. Thank you, Audra! I look forward to continuing working with you."

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is a counselor a therapist?

Counselors and therapists have a number of similarities and overlap, and their job titles may be used interchangeably by some professionals as the fields are very similar; however, they are not the same. Licensure, certification, and requirements based on degree programs is one way to determine whether or not a counselor is a therapist. Counselors and therapists are both a mental health professional, and licensed mental health counselors provide many case management services, where therapists often have private practices. Both specialize in well being, emotional regulation, mental health issues such as stress, and help treat patients through life challenges with various therapy techniques. Additionally, counselors and therapists both work on human behavior and patient populations in a clinical setting.

Can I provide therapy as a counselor?

The short answer is yes — there are many licensed professional counselors. Most counselors such as those that offer counseling services such as school counseling or family counseling do not practice therapy. These licensed mental health professionals work on problem solving with their clients and typically end up referring them to therapists or psychologists for further mental health treatment. For instance, someone seeking out mental health counselors for marriage or family related issues may be referred to marriage and family therapists to work on these mental health conditions. Professional counselors can help you work through life events or emotional health, but they are not a mental health therapist or a clinical psychologist. Counselors and therapists differ in that therapists often work on mental disorders, major depressive disorder, marriage counseling, and have passed the state licensing board and necessary education for more intense counseling and therapy.

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