Difference Between Psychologists, Psychiatrists, And Therapists

“Baby step onto the elevator. Baby steps into the elevator. I’m in the elevator. [. . .] AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” —Bill Murray, What About Bob? (1991)

In A Nutshell

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to mental health, and it is especially confusing to the layperson in terms of the various professions that make up the field. Even being allowed the privilege to call yourself a psychologist will take many years of study, psychiatrists are mainly concerned with diagnosing mental health problems and prescribing medication, and therapists provide counseling but may not actually be psychologists at all.

The Whole Bushel

A psychiatrist’s field has a lot to do with mental health but very little to do with the field of psychology. In fact, the path for a psychiatrist doesn’t involve any obtaining a degree in the psychological arts, but actually requires you to get a medical degree. However, if you are an aspiring psychiatrist, getting your M.D. is just the first step. From there you need several more years of education and hands-on experience before you can be licensed and start your own practice. Psychiatrists also don’t spend all that much time on psychotherapy as a general rule and usually prefer understanding people’s mental health issues as something that can be treated with the proper medication. Of course, their training is very comprehensive, so they may end up leading a team of other mental health professionals.

Psychologists, on the other hand, are an entirely different breed. Many people are under the impression that someone who gets a bachelor’s or master’s degree can call themselves a psychologist, but this is not the case. To be a psychologist you actually need to obtain a Ph.D. There is also a mistaken impression that most of psychology involves some sort of talking therapy. The truth is that while many psychologists specialize in counseling, there are also many who go a different route. Psychologists teach, do research, perform studies, and provide many other psychology-related services other than therapy. Also, it should be noted that in some states in the USA a psychologist can be licensed to prescribe medication like a psychiatrist, but they must go through several years of extra training first.

And last but not least are the trusty therapists who sit you down and talk to you about your problems. This is perhaps one of the most confusing. While many psychologists do perform the role of a therapist, there are also many people who are able to perform mental health counseling who do not have a degree in psychology or psychiatry. Someone can simply obtain a master’s degree in counseling psychology to perform mental health services, but many states require extra study on top of the master’s degree. Another path is through social work. Those with a master’s in social work can provide certain counseling services in many states and in others can be licensed as a full counselor by doing extra studying and passing certifications. These people are called licensed clinical social workers.

Minnesota in particular has some odd rules. While it has licensing systems for counseling, the state laws also make it okay for people who don’t actually have a license in counseling to provide such services. This has allowed people like Marcus Bachmann, husband of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, to provide therapy programs meant to cure people of their homosexuality for decades without actually having a license to practice the craft. This, of course, isn’t particularly good for the mental health field. If we are to properly address these issues in the modern age, our society needs more control over who holds the reins of treatment, not less.

Show Me The Proof

Michigan Psychiatric Society: What is a Psychiatrist?
American Psychological Association: What do practicing psychologists do?
What is counseling psychology?
New York State Social Work: Licensed Clinical Social Worker License Requirements
Star Tribune: Marcus Bachmann says his clinics not anti-gay

  • Exiled Phoenix

    What do you expect from Minnesota . Those wackadoodles elected sarah bachman… dumb as bricks and not even hot. Have you seen fargo… they’re f***ing retards up there.

    • Micah Duke

      Hey, Fargo isn’t in Minnesota; don’t push those wackos off on us!

      • P5ychoRaz

        Don’t feel too badly; I’m from Wisconsin.

      • Exiled Phoenix

        Lol, my bad.

  • Hadeskabir

    Marcus Bachmann is an idiot.

  • MartinL

    And of course the article completely ignored mental health counselors, a growing field of practitioners who must have a Master’s and licensure in many states. We receive more intensive education in theraapeutic techniques and do double the internship in psychological counseling that social workers do, but in some cases agencies will not use mental health counselors because the social workers are already well entrenched. But we’re getting there.

  • IceBreaker

    Whenever something starts with psyco- keep in mind that it is not a real science.

    They are all a bunch of intuitions given a statistical dress-up to look like a real science but since they come with a a prediction success rate worse than that of bimbo weather-girls, they are nothing than plausible narratives and Monday-morning coaching.

    • gustman17

      It is not a ‘positivist’ science. So? Such is the case of Sociology.There’s more to science than predictions, specially if we are to study something that is pretty much impossible to predict because of its complexity – but that doesn’t mean it can’t help us to understand it a bit more.

      Or are we going to shut down Philosophy schools because they don’t produce smartphones or pills?

      • IceBreaker

        Actually I have total respect for Philosophy.

    • Blue

      All of the types of therapeutic counselling type arenas, and much of medicine for that matter, are soft science areas in that they take a statistical approach to enable repeat diagnosis. Our friend below Gustman17 is using philosophy erroneously when it comes to statistical analysis, this is not really a philosophical area rather it is a probability area, it only relies on the study of uncertainty and not on certainty (evidence).

      Scientific philosophy is very different to other types of philosophy as within science, evidence speaks, Whereas within these fields it is generally a statistical analysis and therefore only the chance that you are correct based on limited study areas. Objectivity is often confused with truth in statistical probability studies.

      Statistics are basically math based equations that allow you to show a connection between a set and a sub-set. Statistics are, in large measure, concerned with that concept. They are basically telling you the proportion a subset represents in a set only and are not truly definitive evidence or proof. They are useful in modelling and prediction but need to be based on clearly defined parameters to work effectively, which they are not in soft science areas like psychoanalysis.

      Of course that is an extremely simplistic view of a complex discipline, however it is really what statistical analysis actually is, you can never have a purely evidence based statistic as it relies on inference rather than proof. They help to define a conclusion to a study but are not actual evidence.

      What you must do is ask yourself some questions: who did the study that came up with the statistics, what exactly are the statistics measuring, who was asked, how were they asked and compared with what? And of course who set these arbitrary benchmarks and was there any seeding of the questions, seeding of the test subjects and did the whole subject start at a universal fact. That is why statistics is generally a flawed way to approach complex subjects as the more test subjects the smaller the set appears as the sub-set increases.

      For an example of this directly you can take the case of Near Death Experience, there is no scientific evidence at all for this area, that is nothing, yet people believe in the corridor and white light nonsense, this is purely based on reading examples of this in literature, yet a statistical question of do you believe in NDE would bring up a likely positive answer based on psychological impressioning of people due to reading about such events. That does not make it true as the hard scientific evidence does not support the statistics as clear hard science shows that it is the brain trying to remain alive and this spike in brain activity is the brain attempting to pull back all available energy resources to remain alive, thus giving an immense spark of electrical brainwave activity.

      This is then interpreted but the people who are susceptible to the NDE writings and they say well we saw this and that, when the reality is that all they were a party to was the brain closing non-essential bodily functions as it clawed back the remaining resources such as oxygen in the blood. However they then report they have seen a light, gone down a corridor or floated above themselves, when in reality they have read about this and they have filled in the blanks with what they have been indoctrinated with, i.e. a belief that is not supported by evidence.

      Basically statistics and therefore all psychological, psychoanalytical and therapy practitioners are working with flawed data of one sort or another and cannot be held up as truly scientific evidence and therefore, while they do use a scientific method, their results are open to interpretation rather than being a definitive.

  • Errkism

    Who the hell wants to live in Minnesota anyway.

  • DFK

    Much better article than what im used to on this site. Well done.

  • Hayley B

    Wow, seriously? The lack of respect for the field of counselling – in both the article & the comments- is saddening. Counselling & Psychotherapy is not ‘lesser’, it is a different specialty- entirely useful & valuable in its own right. It’s a pity that the prerequisites to call yourself a therapist are not more stern. A GOOD counsellor, when adequately trained & experienced, empowers an individual, through reflection & challenging, to find a way through their present crises. A good counsellor is invaluable, which is why it’s so sad that people who don’t know the first thing Bout therapy can call themselves a therapist like this gay-cure nutter. Very sad indeed.

  • UN

    with the kind of problems the writer has he probably needs the numbers of all three..