Differences Between a Therapist and Psychologist

These two psychology professionals have similarities and differences.

therapist or psychologist holds rorschach test

Therapist vs. psychologist—what's the difference? 

Both strive for the same result: to improve people's lives.

Nevertheless, there are differences between the two terms and we're here to help you understand what makes them different, so that you can choose the psychology degree program that will best fulfill your career goals.

This checklist will help you clarify the differences between a therapist and psychologist.

Therapist vs. Psychologist Checklist

Psychologists:

  • Have an advanced degree in psychology
  • May do research or therapy
  • Diagnose disorders or problems in their patients/clients
  • Determine appropriate treatments based on clinical diagnoses and observations
  • Often work in tandem with a psychiatrist
  • Help patients/clients make decisions and clarify feelings
  • Provide support and guidance

Therapists:

  • Can include psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, life coaches and social workers
  • Can have any number of degrees in a variety of disciplines, including a master's degree, PhD, MD or certificate in fields such as social work, substance abuse, clinical psychology, psychiatry or family counseling
  • Help patients/clients make decisions and clarify feelings
  • Provide support and guidance

In-Depth Differences

A psychologist is a social scientist who is trained to study human behavior and mental processes. Psychologists can work in a variety of research or clinical settings. Psychology degrees are available at all levels: bachelor's, master's, or doctorate (PhD or PsyD). Advanced degrees and licensing are required for those in independent practice or who offer patient care, including clinical, counseling and school psychologists.

PhD programs in clinical psychology emphasize theory and research methods and prepare students for either academic work or careers as practitioners. The PsyD, which was created in the late 1960s to address a shortage of practitioners, emphasizes training in therapy and counseling. Psychologists with either degree can practice therapy but are required to complete several years of supervised practice before becoming licensed.

A psychologist will diagnose a mental disorder or problem and determine what's best for the patient's care. A psychologist often works in tandem with a psychiatrist, who is also a medical doctor and can prescribe medication if it is determined that medication is necessary for a patient's treatment. Psychologists can do research, which is a very important contribution academically and clinically, to the profession.

A therapist is a broader umbrella term for professionals who are trained—and often licensed—to provide a variety of treatments and rehabilitation for people. Therapists can be psychoanalysts, marriage counselors, social workers and life coaches, among other specialties. A therapist's goal is to help patients make decisions and clarify their feelings in order to solve problems. Therapists provide support and guidance, while helping patients make effective decisions within the overall structure of support. When selecting a therapist, their education, licensing and professional credentials should be essential considerations.