What Is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychologist?

Updated on November 6th, 2020

Professionals in the mental health landscape perform a myriad of tasks, all critical in ensuring access to quality mental health care. Professionals who offer psychotherapy include psychiatrists, marriage and family psychoanalysts, psychologists, and social workers. All these professionals are trained to offer competitive mental health care. However, all the practitioners differ in terms of their training and educational backgrounds. Since the terms are often confused and used interchangeably, this article explores some key similarities and variances between therapists and psychologists. Let’s get started.

Therapist or Psychologist

Similarities Between Therapists and Psychologists 

Psychologists are social scientists who seek to understand and investigate human behavior, either in a clinical setting or during formal research. To work as a psychologist, you will need a Ph.D. in psychology. Unlike the doctor of psychology degree, the Ph.D. in psychology focuses relatively more on formal dissertation and research. A doctor of psychology degree, on the other hand, emphasizes mostly practical clinical experience. That said, both programs mostly accept students with at least a master’s degree in the field of behavioral sciences. 

In other words, the psychologist studies human behavior and brain functions through interviews and observations as well as other data collection methods. As a part of the work of the psychologist, he or she may need to conduct lab experiments, psychoanalysis, and psychotherapy. He or she may also be asked to explore behavioral patterns as well as investigate causality so as to establish diagnoses and understand how the human brain functions. 

Of course, as it is the case with a therapist, you will need a license to work as a registered psychologist. Although the requirements for certification and licensure may differ from state to state, you will mostly be required a doctorate degree in psychology as well as some period of internship. Besides, you may be required to go through at least two years of supervised field experience before getting licensure. 

In the role of a therapist, your work will be to deal with and discuss the emotions, challenges, and experiences of patients. You will need to develop treatment plans and offer counseling. Effective therapists understand how to combine different treatment approaches that will be best suited to support the recovery of their clients when it comes to behavioral problems and mental health complications. Like a psychologist, a therapist needs at least a master’s degree to practice. Licensure is also necessary, which mostly requires a Ph.D. degree and some relevant field experience. 

Differences in Terms of Skills 

Since both professionals work with clients and participate in studying behavior, the two careers mostly require the same skill-sets. Learn more about some important skills for both therapists and psychologists. 

  • Interpersonal skills — you will be interacting with clients and should have people skills.
  • Communication skills — in both roles, you will need to be a keen listener and apply empathy during interpersonal communication.
  • Organizational skills — you will need to be taking records, which means that you should always remain organized.

Differences in Roles | What Do They Do?

Another important area to look at when considering the resemblances and dissimilarities between psychology professionals and therapists is in the roles they take on when at work. If you are a student who is still trying to imagine the ideal career in psychology for you after graduation, then understanding the work differences is important. 

First, please understand that the idea of a therapist is an umbrella concept. There are numerous types of therapy experts, such as marriage and family variants. Instead, the term “psychologist” is very specific to the profession. Given its wide-encompassing nature, the term therapist is often used in reference to many absolutely different professions, including clinical psychology experts, as well as there are familial differences between therapists and psychologists in the work they perform. Conversely, a clinical psychologist only has one line of focus, which is either to prioritize research or to focus on applied work. Their areas of employment include working in academic settings and as researchers in labs. Psychologists can also work as therapists, helping clients to overcome different mental and behavioral challenges. 

Unlike psychologists, therapists tend to only work in therapy, assisting clients to overcome different emotional and behavioral complications. They mostly work directly with clients, and seldom have time for research. These specialists work with clients in medical settings, schools, colleges, and community health centers. 

Differences in Education | What You Need 

Another important consideration when looking for the dissimilarities between therapists and psychologists is the educational requirements. In this respect, psychologists tend to have two primary requirements that ought to be met before one can qualify for a thriving career. In both cases, you will need a college degree, which should also include some form of training in practical situations.  In both cases, you will need certification and licensure, which will both ask for strong academic qualifications. 

However, certain differences also exist when it comes to the academic qualification requirements for psychologists and therapists. For instance, typically, clinical psychologists are often urged to major in psychology when in the undergraduate course before transitioning into a specific field such as clinical psychology at postgraduate level. You will also need to cover some form of clinical experience and practical placement. You can only seek licensure for your psychology career after graduation from your master’s course. 

On the other hand, you do not need to have an undergraduate education in psychology when applying for postgraduate studies to become a therapist. Training of therapists begins at the postgraduate level, as long as the learner comes from a professional background.

Join Us Today and Get Help Choosing Your Career

Choosing the right career can be tricky if you are a college student, and the best approach is to make an informed decision. Take your time to research and choose it wisely. Join our discussion here to find out more about the ideal career choice. 

For Elizabeth, mental health is a personal story. She is an author who provides innovative, creative, and engaging content on topics such as stress management, emotional wellness, relationships, etc. She enjoys creating a useful content to empower people and uses personal experience to help others on their journey to recovery.

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