What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatrist, Psychologist and a Counselor?

One of the big learning curves to entering the mental health world is getting all the different credentials straight.  It does not help that some sound of similar: psychiatrist and psychologist.  Understanding what each one is and does can help you figure out how best to help your child, so let’s explore this a little then.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor.  They focus mainly, if not exclusively, on prescribing medication.  In my experience, a typical psychiatrist will meet with you once for an hour to get to know you and your struggles, then every month or two for 15 to 30 minutes.  During these times he or she is focusing mainly on whether you need medication adjusted or not.  They legally can do psychotherapy, but I have not met many who do.

A psychologist is more likely to do psychotherapy.  Most psychologists are Doctorate level practitioners.  A lot of the underpinnings of their career come from the research of human behaviors and thoughts, so a lot of the psychologists training focuses on that.  This is why psychologist are frequently referred to for psychologist evaluations, they are generally trained on how to do comprehensive assessments.  Many are very competent in both psychotherapy and the psychological evaluation.  Some states allow psychologists to pick up a license for psychopharmacology, which allows them to prescribe medications.

Counselors are generally master’s level practitioners, though they can have doctorates (full disclosure: I am licensed as a professional counselor)  The origin of the counselor’s credential is the field of career counseling.  Today, counselors do not focus just on career counseling, and many never touch it, but the root means that many counselors are trained in a very skills based approach.  By that I mean they are trying to address a problem by providing or training you with more skills to address your problem.  This is not exclusively so, but is a trend I have seen.  It is important to note that a Professional Counselor or Mental Health Counselor is what I am discussing here.  Many other professions have counselor in the title, but do not fit what I am writing about.

There are many other professions that matter: Clinical Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, etc.  but I am not going to get into all that.  The most important thing I can tell you is make sure they have a good reputation.  This matters way more than type of licensure.  To explore licensure types more, please see my book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s