Psychologist vs Therapist: Comparison for choosing a career

Comparison for Psychology students considering careers as psychologists vs therapists?

Information concerning two of the top careers in psychology for those choosing a focus for specialty in the realm of psychology.

By Lisa Alizadeh

Do you find yourself certain you want to pursue a professional career within psychology, but unsure whether becoming a psychologist or a therapist is the right decision? Well let's discuss the specific differences and similarities that are involved in becoming a psychologist and therapist in order to determine which career path is best suited for you.

Sure, both are professional roles within psychology that allow you to help better people's emotional well-being and quality of life, but depending on which career path you choose, there are different education requirements, career opportunities, and salary standards that should be considered when deciding which profession is best for you. As such, the reasons discussed below can help you determine if you should be a psychologist or therapist.

Education Process

A psychologist is known for having significantly more educational requirements. In order to become a psychologist, you must complete a doctoral program in psychology, typically in clinical psychology.

Doctoral programs usually take approximately 4-5 years of graduate school (depending if you already have a master's entering the doctoral program) and require a year of an American Psychological Association (APA) approved internship following the completion of your doctoral coursework. These doctoral programs can be heavily research oriented as well as require significant time and hours in practicums and research projects so you can gain clinical and research experience within the field.

Doctoral programs often expect you to commit full time, which can prevent you from working or earning much income as you complete your program, beyond teaching or research assistant opportunities within your program. Therefore, becoming a psychologist requires extensive education, clinical, and research training depending on whether you choose to pursue a PhD (more research oriented) or a PsyD (more clinically oriented) psychology doctoral program.

If you desire to become a therapist, the educational requirements are less intense than a psychologist, as you must only complete a master's degree either in counseling psychology, marriage and family therapy, or social work.

To become a therapist, the average master's degree program takes approximately 2-3 years to complete and requires a clinical practicum towards the end of the coursework to gain hands-on and supervised experience in therapy. It is also beneficial for a therapist to consider a master's program that is CACREP accredited, as these programs ensure you are meeting the educational requirements for future licensure. These programs can be more extensive and more time consuming initially, but pay off in the long run when it comes time to apply for licensure as a therapist.

Another difference between psychology and therapy education is that many times you can continue to work in the behavioral health field while completing your master's in a therapy-related subject, and it is in fact quite common to work as you receive your master's degree. This is even truer for those who earn an online degree in psychology, as this often offers the flexibility you need to complete your degree online and continue to work and gain experience.


Following the completion of graduate school and the required practicum or internship, a psychologist and therapist have different types of licensures and requirements.

A psychologist must complete 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience as well as pass the licensing exam in order to become a licensed psychologist within the state they choose to practice. Other specific requirements depend on the state.

In order to become a licensed therapist, youy must complete licensure requirements dependent on your interests and education. For example, if you earned a master's degree in social work, then you would work towards becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). However, if you earned a master's degree in counseling psychology, then you can choose between becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). These licensures vary in coursework and exam requirements, and also vary by the state in which you choose to practice.

Generally, in order to become a licensed therapist you must complete 2,000 hours of clinical supervision and pass the required exam for your specific licensure following the completion of graduate school. The difficulty of exams vary across licensures for both therapists and psychologists. Therefore, the licensure process is extensive and take several years to complete for both therapists and psychologists.

Career Interests and Opportunities

If you choose to become a psychologist, you will find more positions related to teaching, supervision, and management beyond providing therapy. If you desire to work as a professor, supervisor, or manager within psychology, then becoming a psychologist would likely be the most opportunistic choice. That said, therapists can become managers and supervisors after years of experience as well, you just may be considered a more competitive applicant if you are a licensed psychologist and hold a doctorate within the field.

If you know you are primarily interested in providing therapy and clinical services, then becoming a therapist would allow you to practice within the field sooner and more easily. You can practice therapy of course as a psychologist and attain more extensive educational training, but the time consumption to become a psychologist may not be as efficient as becoming of a therapist. Therefore, these are all personal career goals you must consider when determining if you should become a psychologist or a therapist.

Potential Income

A final consideration in determining whether to become a psychologist or a therapist is income. Psychologists tend to earn a higher income since they typically have more advanced and rigorous education and training. A psychologist's salary nis an average annual income of $75,090, while a therapist salary eis an average annual income of $46,740 (O*Net, 2018).

Even though psychologist tend to make more money, the salary and opportunity for financial growth can vary depending on the career path and opportunities your pursue within the field of psychology and mental health. Furthermore, when you consider all the educational, licensure, career interests, and financial differences among psychologists and therapists, you ultimately should choose the career path that best meets your personal and professional goals and needs.