Psychologist v Therapist: Explained

Written by Nicole Arzt, LMFT | Last Updated: Saturday November 6, 2021
Clinical Reviewer Dr. Carolina Estevez, Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist

f you’re seeking out mental health services, you may feel overwhelmed when you begin your search. Do you need a therapist or a psychologist? Or do you need a psychiatrist? Or do you need more than one? How does psychology differ from psychiatry? Although people may use the terms interchangeably it’s crucial to know the differences between the definition of a psychologist v therapist.  

This information can help you locate the best mental health care for your needs. Additionally, understanding the slight differences will enable you to make the best decision. 


Psychologist v Therapist: What Are The Main Differences?

There is a lot of overlap when it comes to the services provided by mental health professionals. Therapists and psychologists share many job duties. Additionally, they often work together to coordinate optimal client care. This coordination is common in settings like:

  • Hospitals
  • Standalone mental health facilities
  • Schools
  • Inpatient treatment centers
  • Nonprofit facilities
  • Private practice 
  • Online therapy

In general, mental health professionals all have the same goal. They want to help you improve your life-quality. All of them share the desire to understand human behavior. Furthermore, they provide support, compassion, and guidance for their clients.


Psychologist v Therapist

Differences In Education

Psychologists have doctorate-level degrees. They may hold specific titles. For instance, your therapist might hold a Ph.D., PsyD or EDD. All schools maintain specific requirements for conferring degrees. To become a psychologist, you need to:

  • Complete and graduate from an accredited program
  • Defend a dissertation
  • Complete one or more clinical internships
  • Pass required board exams
  • Maintain good standing through continuing education units 


Therapists fall under more of a general umbrella term. Many mental health professionals provide therapy services. Therapists can include any of the following:

  • Psychologists
  • Clinical social workers
  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Licensed clinical counselors


All therapists must complete appropriate graduate-level training and internship work. They also need to adhere to state regulations. Likewise, they must pass state board exams and complete a certain number of continuing education units.  

The main difference between the two professions comes back to the doctorate. Therapists may have doctorates. However, psychologists must have them. 

Differences In Services 

Therapists and psychologists offer many of the same clinical services. For example, both professionals can: 

  • Diagnose mental health conditions
  • Provide individual therapy for clients of all ages
  • Offer family or couples therapy 
  • Facilitate psychoeducation 
  • Run support groups
  • Offer case management services
  • Supervise interning therapists 
  • Facilitate mental health workshops and trainings 
  • Coordinate clinical care with other professionals like physicians, teachers, lawyers, dietitians, and case managers
  • Offer referrals and resources for other services 


Many mental health professionals wish to teach and both psychologists and therapists can teach in academic settings. However, some universities require their faculty to have doctorate degrees. 

Clinical research represents an essential part of psychology science. Both therapists and psychologists can interpret and conduct research. Some psychologists specialize in research and data analysis. They might choose to pursue this path instead of providing traditional therapy. 

Differences In Specializations

Therapists and psychologists may also have overlapping specializations. For example, both professions can work with individuals, couples, or families. Both can receive additional training in modalities like art therapy, psychoanalysis, or EMDR.  

Some therapy programs focus more on a systemic approach. Systemic-based therapists may specialize in couples therapy or family work seeing as they tend to focus on groups rather than individuals. Rather than focusing on a single person, they believe that change entails examining the entire unit.  

Licensed clinical psychologists may provide their clients with various assessments. They also interpret the results from this data, so that they can treat the client accordingly with psychotherapy. Therapists sometimes conduct tests. However, they must have the appropriate training to be able to do this. 

Differences In Costs

Psychologists often charge more for their therapy sessions. Nevertheless, it really depends on the professional. Before starting your treatment, you will discuss the fees associated with it. Both psychologists and therapists can provide sliding scale services. Moreover, many insurance companies offer reimbursement for both psychologists and therapists.


Psychologist v Therapist

Some people use the term psychologist and psychiatrist interchangeably. However, many differences exist between these two professions. So how does a psychiatrist differ from a psychologist? 

Psychiatrists hold medical degrees. They must complete medical school and their residency. Basically, you first become a doctor and then you specialize. Additionally, they earn state licenses for medicine and psychiatry. Psychiatrists can:

  • Provide a medical prescription
  • Order brain imaging tests
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Check and screen for other physical abnormalities 


Although it’s rare, psychiatrists sometimes also perform psychotherapy. This means that clients may meet with their psychiatrists for both therapy and medications. Other clients see a psychiatrist in conjunction with another mental health professional. 


Psychologist vs Therapist: What’s Best For You?

Both therapists and psychologists specialize in understanding human behavior. They both seek to improve the lives of the people they treat. They blend compassion with practical solutions for their clients.  

Everyone has different mental health treatment needs. An approach that works well for one client might be detrimental to someone else. For this reason, many people believe that it’s the person not the title that defines effective mental health treatment. Indeed, it’s often the relationship (and not the letters behind their name) that helps people the most. 





Writer Biography

Nicole Arzt


Nicole Arzt, LMFT is a licensed marriage & family therapist with nearly a decade of experience treating issues related to anxiety and mood disorders, parenting and family dynamics, complex trauma, and substance use disorders. A professional content writer, she has authored hundreds of scholarly articles for mental health professionals, treatment facilities, and nonprofit organizations. Nicole lives in Southern California with her husband and son.

Clinical Reviewer

Dr. Carolina Estevez

Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist

Dr. Estevez is a clinical psychologist licensed in the State of Florida. She specializes in the administration and interpretation of a variety of psychological tests including personality evaluations, diagnostic assessments, academic and neuropsychological tests, and vocational and disability assessments. Dr. Estevez has provided individual and group psychotherapy to diverse mental health populations in inpatient, outpatient, community mental health, and substance abuse rehabilitation settings. She has worked with individuals of all ages and with a variety of diagnoses including mood and anxiety disorders, personality disorders, behavioral and developmental disorders, psychotic disorders, and trauma-related disorders

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