Psychiatrist vs Psychologist vs Therapist
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
There are many different professional titles in the mental health field, causing much confusion when clients are looking for help. If I was not in the mental health field myself, I would be just as perplexed. It’s important to choose the right provider for your needs, and I hope this helps on your journey to finding the right fit for you.
A psychiatrist is someone who is able to write and provide scripts for medication. These individuals went to medical school and have doctorates. After finishing an undergraduate degree, they will go onto a medical doctorate program and residency (a hands on placement for applying their skills) which generally takes 8 years in all to complete.
Psychiatrists are generally seen when someone is looking for a specific diagnosis and medication management. While there are psychiatrists who provide talk therapy, most are for purely medication management. A psychiatrist appointment is often 15-30 minutes long for medication check ups, while the initial assessment is around an hour.
Someone who is a psychologist has completed a PHD or PsyD program and can take 5-8 years after their undergraduate degree. These are both doctorate programs that have a slightly different focus. PHD's are Doctors of Philosophy and have a greater emphasis on research and the scientific method. This is often for those who seek to complete and publish their own research. PsyD’s are Doctors of Psychology and focus more on clinical work and training. Both can provide talk therapy, as well as administer psychological tests such as personality and developmental tests due to their schooling. If you are seeing a psychologist for testing, it may be multiple hours depending on the test itself. For a talk therapy session, these are going to be around 50-55 minutes long.
Therapist and counselor are interchangeable words that mean the same thing and are generally just a preference for the therapist/counselor to refer to themselves as. For the remainder of this section, I will use the word therapist, as this is my preference.
Someone who is a therapist has completed a master’s program and once licensed, will have some of these letters after their name:
· LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
· LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
· LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
· LISAC: Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor
For all intents and purposes, these titles mean the same thing such that these individuals have completed a master’s program, passed their licensing exam, and completed their post graduate hours to be independently licensed. These programs are generally 2-3 years, and are completed after obtaining an undergraduate degree. All students complete classes as well as internship where they get first hand experience on job sites before graduating.These programs are similar with having slightly more focus on something whether that be family or substance use.
What can be most important in finding the right therapist is seeing what their experience has been after school. If you’re looking for someone who has expertise and experience in substance use, that does not necessarily mean you need to make sure someone has a LISAC after their name. Therapists will share this information with you on their psychology today or websites where they will detail their experience, trainings, and specialties.
To delve even further, there are associate licenses. When therapists graduate from school, they need to complete around 3,200 hours of supervision and work experience before becoming licensed. At minimum, this takes two years. So if you see someone with a LAC, LMSW, LAMFT, or LASAC, it means they are currently working under supervision and gaining hours to get their license. To sum it up, if you see someone who is independently licensed (LPC, LCSW, LMFT, LISAC) it means they have at least 2 years of work experience after their master’s program where they were being supervised and gaining experience and hours towards their independent license.
Therapists/counselors are seen for therapy where sessions are generally 50-55 minutes. Depending on the therapist specialties and the clients they are working with, they may use talk therapy, play therapy, EMDR therapy, skills building, IFS therapy, etc, or a mixture of all. There are endless modalities that therapist may have expertise in to fit a client’s needs.
I hope this helped in navigating the alphabet soup that follows mental health providers names, and finding one that fits what you are searching for.
Written by Devan of SafeHeart Counseling. Devan is the founder and owner of SafeHeart Counseling, which provides therapy services to children, teens, and families. SafeHeart Counseling specializies in working with eating disorders, trauma, anxiety, and family conflict.