Therapist vs Psychologist Differences

The terms therapist and psychologist are often used interchangeably and it’s tempting to think the two are one and the same, however, there are some key differences in the two. Both work in the helping field of psychology. Both see clients and patients and work to help them solve their problems and improve their lives, and both a therapist and a psychologist may employ similar techniques to achieve this. There are differences, though, both educational and in practice. Early on, students will learn about the many directions a career in psychology can take. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the educational requirements for particular roles and positions so that you can achieve your goals and not waste any time.

Pursuing A Career In Psychology

Students interested in a career in psychology will begin taking preparatory undergraduate courses in psychology and other required courses. It is at this point that the student may develop an interest in a particular area of psychology.

For example, you may become interested in the research aspect of psychology, or the social aspect. You may take a particular interest in a specific disorder, such as borderline personality disorder, or you may feel pulled toward working with a specific population, such as children, athletes or persons struggling with addiction. Your areas of interest may determine whether you choose to pursue a career as a psychologist or a therapist.

What Is Involved In Becoming A Psychologist?

In order to become a psychologist, you must complete your bachelor’s degree and then move on to a doctorate program. Doctorate programs typically take four years to complete, at which point, you will receive your Ph.D. Some choose to complete a master’s degree prior to their doctorate, however, this is not necessary. Some people are intimidated by the idea of pursuing a doctorate program. While it is certainly challenging, it is a worthwhile venture and opens many doors. A career as a psychologist is also financially rewarding.

What Does A Psychologist Do?

A psychologist works with clients or patients in either hospital, clinic or private practice settings to help them identify, treat, manage and improve their mental health. Psychologists may also work in schools, correctional facilities, drug treatment programs and other settings. Psychologist’s who work in private practices are often in the role of therapist, while a psychologist in a hospital setting may take on more of a diagnostic role.

The ability to diagnose a patient is one of the primary differences between a therapist and a psychologist. A psychologist can diagnose a client or patient using a variety of assessments and diagnostic tests. From there, he or she may develop a treatment plan, and may refer the patient or client to a psychiatrist for further evaluations or prescribe medications to treat symptoms.

Psychologists may specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this situation, the psychologist will often work in an agency or hospital setting, providing treatment for people who are living with and managing their mental illness. While a psychologist does not have the medical degree of a psychiatrist, they are often more knowledgeable than a therapist in respect to serious mental illness and neurological disorders.

In other situations, a psychologist may work more as a therapist, keeping the focus on helping clients work through and find solutions to problems they may be having in their daily lives.

What Level Of Education Does A Therapist Have?

A therapist will have a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, and will go on to complete a master’s degree program. He or she will also need to complete a certain amount of hours supervised by a licensed clinician. Master’s degrees are typically two years of education.

What Does A Therapist Do?

A therapist may choose to work in a number of settings, including group counseling, marriage and family therapy, a private practice,  or an agency. A therapist may become a social worker. Therapists may work with children and adolescents, couples, individuals or families. They may work in residential treatment centers or even in workplace settings. Therapists focus is generally on working with clients who come to them with specific issues they need to work through. Common problems include dealing with major life changes, such as divorce, death, an expanding family or other life change. Anger management or stress management are common problems, as are codependence, depression, anxiety or performance issues. A person can come into therapy not knowing specifically what is wrong, but simply because they are not satisfied with their lives or the way that they are coping with it.

A therapist may work with individuals who are coping with mental illness, trauma or other issues, but they do not generally make a diagnosis. They may refer a client to a psychologist or a psychiatrist if they believe the individual is in need of a diagnosis, intervention or treatment for a mental disorder. A therapist may work in an agency setting under the supervision or in collaboration with a psychologist and/or a psychiatrist.

Both psychologists and therapists utilize a variety of therapeutic techniques to help their clients and patients improve the quality of their lives. For those who are considering a career in psychology, these are two different directions you may be interested in. Which you choose will largely depend on what your goals are and who you want to work with. For example, if you have a keen interest in abnormal psychology, or an interest in helping those with mental illness, then you would likely pursue a career as a psychologist. If, however, you are more drawn to helping people navigate everyday life circumstances, then a career as a therapist is a good choice.  In many cases, people complete the required schooling to become a therapist, and then go on to get their doctorate so they can be a psychologist. Either career will have rewards and challenges, and allow you to truly make a difference in people’s lives.