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What's the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, and other therapists?

Many people are unaware of the differences between mental health professionals and may use the terms "psychologist," "psychiatrist," or "counselor" interchangeably. However, there are important differences that you should be aware of about each profession, such as years of training, qualifications and licensure, and areas of specialization. This guide will help you choose the best professional for you, based on your specific needs.

Psychologists: a "psychologist" has a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in clinical or counseling psychology, has the most extensive training (5-7 years), and can specialize in a wide range of issues (social issues, PTSD, substance abuse, divorce, parenting, career or work problems, adolescent psychology, bipolar, couples/family therapy, anxiety and mood disorders, etc). Psychologists are also experts in diagnosing mental disorders and receive the most in depth training in psychological testing.

Counselors: a "counselor" has a Masters degree (2-3 years training), is licensed (LMHC, LMFT, LCSW), and specializes in mental health counseling, marriage family and couples therapy, or substance abuse (drug and alcohol). They often identify themselves as "marriage counselor" or "family counselor".

Therapists: a "therapist" is a general designation that many types of providers can use, but is not standard terminology beyond people who are licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), who fit the above description for counselor. Essentially, any mental health provider can call him/herself a therapist. You may also see a practitioner refer to him/herself as a "psychotherapist," which is also not a formal type of provider.

Psychiatrists: are trained physicians that specialize in mental health. Many psychiatrists do some limited form of counseling, with some being trained in deeper counseling approaches. Most treat mental health issues through medication.

Coaches: are a relatively new type of provider that as of this writing, are not regulated by state licensing bodies. That means that pretty much anyone can call themselves a "coach" and give some type of life advice, guidance, or counseling, although they are not legally allowed to practice the type of counseling that any of the above providers can.

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