Should I See a Psychologist or a Therapist?

When seeking talk-based help for emotional mental issues, it is often challenging to determine which type of professional to seek. Terminology can be confusing to someone pursuing help for the first time. A great start is to understand the various types of professionals available, so to recognize the differences between a psychologist and a therapist.

What is a Therapist?

“Therapist” is a blanket term for several different types of licensed professionals who provide talk and behavioral therapy services. While licensing requirements do vary by state, in order to practice as a therapist, a provider must meet a standard of educational and professional qualifications. Therapists strive to listen and help patients make decisions, comprehend their emotions, and learn problem-solving techniques. Through guidance, therapists strive to help individuals lead more effective lives through teaching coping skills, self-awareness, recognizing underlying motivations, and by giving their patients room to come to terms with potential unresolved life issues. Some psychologists are practicing therapists, but not all therapists are psychologists.

What is a Psychologist?

A licensed clinical psychologist is a therapist who has completed a doctoral degree ( PsyD, PhD, or EdD). While some psychologists choose to go into research or education as opposed to directly providing therapy, those that chose to practice as therapists have extensive training and education. In addition to studying the mind and behaviors beginning in their undergraduate studies, psychologists spend graduate school learning the processes for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental and emotional disorders.

As a post-graduate, a psychologist must complete an extensive internship to acquire experience and further their training in treatment, theories, and behavior prior to licensing. Unlike most other therapists, licensed clinical psychologists can diagnose mental health disorders. In some cases, individuals who pursue therapy from other types of professionals may be referred by their therapist to a psychologist if they are in need of a specific diagnosis or evaluation. However, while a psychologist can diagnose and provide therapy, they are not a medical doctor. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication or perform medical testing. When medication or medical testing is warranted, a psychologist will work with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor to meet a patient’s individual needs.

Qualified Therapists are Educated and Experienced Professionals

There are various other professionals who are qualified and licensed to provide therapy to individuals and groups. As mentioned above, states regulate and provide licensure to therapists with the education and experience required to administer therapy. Some states have more regulations in place than others, but in most cases individuals must have not only a graduate degree, but also be subject to internships, supervised experience, and testing in order to earn their credentials. Therapists usually need to have been involved in a field of study such as social work, psychology, family counselling, or similar field that would apply to the social sciences.

While most are unable to diagnose a specific mental illness, when such a condition is suspected through evaluation, they are able to refer a patient to a psychologist or other medical professional for formal diagnosis. In many cases, they are qualified to treat and support various issues such as stress and depression through talk therapies. They may work in conjunction with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other medical doctor depending on an individual’s needs. Many specialize in certain areas of practice, and therefore selection of the type of therapist to see would be based not only on personal choice, but also by specialty.

Types of Licensed Therapists

While not a completely inclusive list, as geographical location does vary on who can become a licensed therapist, there are a few popular types of therapy options that exist across the United States.

Mental Health Counselors (MHC/CCMHC/LMCH) are licensed individuals with a doctoral or master’s degree in mental health counseling or behavioral science. There are many requirements for the types of classes taken, and post-graduation requirements include internships and supervised counseling.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MTF) would hold at least a master’s degree in their field of study, and be subject to a year or two of supervised practice depending on their highest degree. Generally speaking they provide marriage counselling, support the communication in a family unit, and assist people in making better interpersonal decisions and actions.

Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) therapists are educated and licensed to evaluate and provide supportive treatment for mental health services. Also performing the role of family, individual, or patient advocate, they are usually versed in case management and can assist patients in getting available social services in their communities.

Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurses are individuals who have received specialized training in mental and behavioral health beyond the medical training and education required for nursing. Depending on their degree and licensing, they not only are able to evaluate and treat patients with therapy, but in some cases are able to also prescribe medications.

Making a Choice

Any of the above licensed professionals are authentic therapists. While each person is unique in their needs, it is possible that you may need to see a few therapists before deciding on the one that is right for you. Much of recovery has to do with trust, interaction, and the quality of help received. While many different choices of qualified therapists are available, the ultimate choice is quite personal.

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