Home Articles What Is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychologist?

What Is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychologist?

Fast Facts About Therapists vs. Psychologists

  • A psychologist can be a therapist, but not all therapists are psychologists.
  • Both clinical therapists and psychologists can diagnose and treat mental health issues, but unlike therapists, psychologists (in a few states) can prescribe medication. Non-clinical therapists may not always be allowed to diagnose or treat.
  • Psychologists typically need a doctorate, but some positions only require a master’s. Some therapists can practice with a bachelor’s, but many jobs require a minimum of a master’s.
  • Psychologists can work in research and academia, while therapists generally can’t.
  • Psychologist careers typically pay more than therapist careers.

What Is a Therapist?

A therapist, sometimes called a psychotherapist or mental health counselor, provides rehabilitation and treatment to people with mental or behavioral health issues, as well as those who are simply dealing with the daily struggles of their lives. Good therapists are nonjudgmental, active listeners who help clients understand how their pasts affect their presents, build coping mechanisms for mental health problems, work through trauma or suicidal thoughts, and learn conflict resolution skills.

Therapist careers include, but aren’t limited to, family and marriage counselors, school counselors, career counselors, substance abuse counselors, and child therapists. Therapists can’t prescribe medications, so they need to network with prescribing mental health professionals in their area so they can make the best recommendations for their clients.

To me a psychotherapist is an objective sounding board, a perspective shifter, game changer, a truth teller.

– Erika Martinez, Psy.D.

What Is a Psychologist?

Psychologists can provide therapy but are trained to do much more. In fact, the American Psychological Association recognizes 54 divisions within the field.

In addition to clinical psychologist, psychologists may hold positions such as forensic psychologist, engineering psychologist, industrial-organizational psychologist, or sports psychologist. Some psychologists work at universities, conducting research that can affect the field as a whole and/or teaching the next generation of mental health professionals. Psychologists can also diagnose disorders and problems in patients, providing treatments accordingly.

Child psychologists focus on the problems of children and adolescents. They frequently specialize further than child therapists and may work more extensively with a medical or academic team. Common focuses include specific age groups, abnormal psychology in youths, developmental psychology, school psychology, and educational psychology.

Unlike therapists, psychologists in Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico can prescribe certain medications. Elsewhere, they often work in partnership with a psychiatrist in diagnosing and treating patients, particularly if their clients have disorders they can’t manage with therapy alone.

Psychology is a tremendously varied field. Psychologists conduct both basic and applied research, serve as consultants to communities and organizations, diagnose and treat people, and teach future psychologists and those who will pursue other disciplines.

– American Psychological Association

Education and Licensure Requirements for Therapists and Psychologists

Therapists and psychologists have different educational requirements. While some therapy careers simply require a bachelor’s degree, many require a master’s. For psychologists, a master’s will suffice for certain positions, but most academic and clinical psychology careers require a doctorate. Earning degrees beyond the minimum required may result in new opportunities, a higher number of clients, and a larger salary—though returning to school takes time and money.

Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years of full-time study to complete. Master’s degrees often take two years and require researching and writing a thesis or capstone project. Doctoral programs can range from two to six years and need you to complete a capstone or research, write, and defend a dissertation.

States have different licensure requirements for the various careers in the field. However, universalities include:

  • Graduating from an accredited program
  • Passing state and/or national examinations
  • Passing a background check

Below, you can learn about minimum degree and licensure requirements for some common careers. It’s important to remember that actual requirements will vary by state, as will the titles of the licenses themselves.

Common Career Paths for Therapists or Psychologists

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

This career requires a bachelor’s degree or sometimes a master’s degree. Licensure requirements include 2,000–4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, a state exam, and yearly continuing education.

School and Career Counselors

This career requires a master’s degree. Licensure requirements include a supervised internship or practicum, an exam, and sometimes teaching experience.

Social Workers

This career requires a bachelor’s degree. Licensure requirements include a master’s degree, two years supervised experience, and an exam.

Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Clinical and counseling psychology require a doctoral degree. School psychology requires a master’s degree. Licensure requirements for these careers vary by state. See you psychology state board for more information.

Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary

This career requires a doctoral degree. Individual employers may require licensure in the specific subject taught.

Psychologists, All Other

This career requires a master’s degree. Licensure requirements include a supervised internship, one to two years of supervised professional experience, exams, and continuing education.

Salary and Job Growth for Therapist and Psychologist Jobs

Below, you can discover the opportunities for pay and available jobs.

Annual Salary and Career Growth for Therapists
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $46,240 +22%
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,610 +22%
School and Career Counselors $57,040 +8%
Social Workers $50,470 +11%
Annual Salary and Career Growth for Psychologists
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists $87,450 +15%
Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary $87,450 +15%
Psychologists, All Other $98,230 +12%

Therapists: 2019 median salary and 2018-2028 projected job growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020).
Psychologists: 2019 mean salary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2018-2028 job growth from CareerOneStop (2020).

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