Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Counselor, Therapist… What’s the Difference?
Every profession has its fair share of jargon and the mental health field is definitely no exception to that. In fact, we LOVE to make up our own words for things all the time. And usually in a way that is much more complicated than necessary. The different titles you might find in our field are many and can be pretty confusing. In fact, one of the questions I get asked most by new patients is “Are you a psychiatrist or a psychologist?” Usually followed up by, “And what does that mean?” Or “Do you prescribe medications?” So, let’s break it down, so you can learn who is who and which type of professional might be the right choice for you.
Psychiatrists – Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who have specialized in the medical treatment of mental health. Just like we have cardiologists or oncologists, seeing a psychiatrist is like seeing any other medical specialist. They went to medical school and completed a residency in psychiatry. They should be licensed in your state and should be board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
When to see a psychiatrist – It’s a good choice to see a psychiatrist when you are hoping to explore the option of medication for the treatment of your mental health. Many people benefit from antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications at some point in their lives. And others with more chronic conditions like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder are often encouraged to utilize medication as a way to manage their symptoms over the longterm. While some psychiatrists will provide talk therapy, this is not common. Initial sessions are a little longer, but in general, your appointments are short and focused on medication management.
Psychologists – Psychologists are also doctors but obtained a Ph.D. or Psy.D. instead of a medical degree. They also should be licensed in their state but board certification is considered optional. Psychologists are especially trained in therapy techniques and theory as well as psychological testing. (Keep a look out for a future post for a run down on psychological testing). All psychologists are required to have thousands of hours (usually around 6,000 hours) of experience providing services to clients before getting licensed. Psychologists in some states can prescribe medications, but this requires additional post-degree training. Psychologists in Illinois can apply for prescription privileges if they complete additional coursework and experience.
When to see a psychologist – Psychologists are often great at providing talk therapy to treat a wide variety of concerns from depression, anxiety, grief, life transitions, career advice, relationship difficulties and more. They have years of training in providing therapy and can often address both minor concerns and major mental health issues. Additionally, psychologists are the only mental health professionals qualified to offer comprehensive psychological assessments. This includes things like evaluations for Autism, ADHD, or learning difficulties; evaluations for memory problems such as dementia or head injuries, and evaluations to determine between different mental health diagnoses.
Counselors – Counselors go by a few different titles. Here in Illinois, we have Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPCs) or Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs). They are licensed in their state of practice and complete a Master’s Degree with a focus on providing therapy. Similar to psychologists, they are required to complete practical training during their schooling (usually around 800 hours or so). LCPCs are required to complete additional post-degree hours before getting licensed.
When to see a counselor – Even though a counselor is not a doctor, there are hundreds of great counselors available that are a wonderful choice if you are looking for talk therapy. Some counselors have different specialties such as working with teenagers, couples, families, or children. If your budget is a little tight, their billing rate can be a little more affordable than that of a psychiatrist or psychologist.
No matter what type of professional you’re looking for, hopefully we’ve given you a place to start. And don’t be afraid to “shop around”. We always encourage clients to make sure your provider is a good fit – Someone you feel like you can trust and work well with.
To read more about our providers, click here. Or give us a call to set up an appointment.