Here’s How to Distinguish between Psychologists, Therapists, and Psychiatrists

What are the differences in treatment options for depression and which one is right for me? Here you’ll find an overview of your options when looking for the right treatment for depression. Nearly 1/5 of us will suffer from depression in their course of their lives. One of the barriers that might make it hard […]

How To Distinguish Between Psychologist, Therapist, And Psychiatrist: A woman is standing in front of three doors.

Nearly 1/5 of us will suffer from depression in their course of their lives. One of the barriers that might make it hard for us to overcome this illness is that we don’t know where or how to begin. Who do I need to go see? When should I start taking this seriously? How do I start?

When facing depression, these questions might seem overwhelming and confusing. The following article will explain the difference between psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists, as well as the more nuanced job titles in the US and show you how to take the first easy step towards seeking help.


What Is a Psychologist?

Someone who has studied and obtained a university degree in Psychology is called a psychologist. Psychologists tend to be either research-focused or applied (meaning, they work with people). If desired, a psychologist can specialize further. For example, in the healthcare sector, he or she can focus on clinical, counseling, forensic or health psychology.

The term “psychologist” in itself does not suffice to treat patients. Although the psychologist has a theoretical basis, he or she has no training in therapy or counselling.

  • Main focus: Either research-focused or applied (working with clients)
  • Degree: Psychology
  • Additional qualifications: ✘
  • Protected job title: (Only indicates a finished degree in Psychology)
  • Insurance coverage: ✘
  • Suitable for treating depression: ✘

What Is a Clinical Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist has acquired a degree in Psychology and an additional 3 years of master’s or doctorate clinical training. Clinical psychologists can work in hospitals, psychiatric units, local clinics, as well as schools, social services, and so on, offering therapy and treatment for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and addiction.

  • Main focus: Assessment and therapy of mental health disorders
  • Degree: Psychology
  • Additional qualifications: 2-3 years of master’s and/or doctorate clinical training
  • Protected job title: ✔
  • Insurance coverage: check with your provider
  • Suitable for treating depression: ++

What Is a Counseling Psychologist?

Similarly, a counseling psychologist has also acquired a degree in Psychology, but pursued a different master’s or doctorate. The main difference between a counselling and a clinical psychologist tends to be the nature and intensity of problems, their duration, and the perspective of the therapy.

A counselling might tend to focus on less severe, present, shorter-term life issues such as bereavement, life crises, doubts, low self-esteem, or mild depression. Whereas a clinical psychologist might focus on long-term, or past problems and more severe depression.

  • Main focus: Counselling and guidance of personal problems
  • Degree: Psychology
  • Additional qualifications: 2-3 years of master’s and/or doctorate counselling training
  • Protected job title: ✔
  • Insurance coverage: check with your provider
  • Suitable for treating depression: (mild depression) ++ (severe depression) –

What Is a Psychotherapist?

A psychotherapist has finished his or her degree and received additional training at postgraduate level focusing specifically on therapy. These additional qualifications ensure the reliability and effectiveness of his or her therapy method. Usually a psychotherapist will specialize on one specific psychotherapeutic method, for example: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Psychoanalytic therapy, Humanistic therapy, etc.

A psychotherapist is prepared to give adequate therapy and solutions to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or more severe disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, a psychotherapist is not permitted to prescribe medication such as antidepressants or anxiety medication, as only psychiatrists can do that.

Keep in mind: Most states, (not all!) require a state licensure with their state board.

  • Main focus: Psychotherapy of all mental health disorders
  • Degree: Medicine, Psychology, Social Work, or Mental Health
  • Additional qualifications: Training at Postgraduate level (Up to 3 years)
  • Protected job title: ✔ (check the link above, to make sure)
  • Insurance coverage: ✔ (check with your provider to make sure)
  • Suitable for treating depression: +++

What Is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a doctor who has specialized on mental illnesses. After graduating from Medical School, they will have to undertake an additional specialization that can take up to 6 years.

Psychiatrists, unlike psychotherapists, can prescribe medication such as antidepressants, anxiety, or anti-psychotic medication. Because of this, psychiatrists usually tend to work in more severe cases of mental disorders, because antidepressants usually are not implemented in cases of mild and many moderate depressions.

Psychiatrists, therefore, focus on the more severe pathological population and usually work in clinics and hospitals, sometimes in a team with other psychotherapists. If you are not struggling with severe depression a psychiatrist usually isn’t necessary for therapy.

  • Main focus: Psychiatry – Medication and Diagnosis of mental health disorders
  • Degree: Medicine (5 years of study + 2 years of foundation training)
  • Additional qualifications: Additional 4-6 years of specialization in Psychiatry
  • Protected job title: ✔
  • Insurance coverage: ✔
  • Suitable for treating depression: +++ (usually treating severe depression)

What Is a Licensed Counselor?

A counselor, similar to a counseling psychologist, will be able to guide you through short-term crises, doubts, or issues such as bereavement or social conflicts. One advantage of counseling can be the various formats counseling can offer: Individual, group, couples, or family counseling. Counseling might simply mean talking through problems with no specific structure or agenda.

Most states require passing an exam, after earning a master’s degree to earn licensure as a counselor. A National Certified Counselor (NCC) ensures professional credibility and transparency. This usually means they have had at least 3000 hours of counseling experience and have received 100 hours of supervision.

  • Main focus: Counseling, Coaching, Therapy, Training
  • Degree: Typically, a master’s degree in counseling
  • Protected job title: National Certified Counselor (NCC) ✔
  • Additional qualifications: Usually, 3000 hours of post-graduate experience
    + 100 hours of supervision
  • Insurance coverage: ✘ (check with your provider to make sure)
  • Suitable for treating depression: (mild depression) + (severe depression) ✘

Wait! What’s the Difference Between a Clinical Psychologist, Counseling Psychologist, and a Counselor?

  • A clinical psychologist has a complete psychological focus, overseen by the American Psychological Association (APA). After the Bachelor’s, the specialization has been put on the clinical aspect of psychology.
  • A counseling psychologist also has his or her basis in psychology, which means that it is overseen and licensed by the American Psychological Association (APA). After his or her Bachelor’s however, the focus has been put on counseling.
  • A counselor focuses solely on counseling, meaning that it is overseen and licensed by the American Counseling Association (ACA).


The APA and the ACA are two different associations with different main focuses and curricula. As counseling usually tends to focus on a healthy population, with personal life problems, the focus of therapy and counseling sessions is on lighter, more present and short-term issues.
Counseling psychology focuses more on disorders. This means that, usually, clinical psychologists tend to be more experienced in treating a diagnosed depression than a counselor would, who focuses more on life issues, doubts and crises.

What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

Clinical social workers can work in many different settings. They might offer therapy, management services and emotional support for people struggling with a variety of challenges. The unique thing about a clinical social worker is the combination of clinical knowledge (including mental and emotional disorders) with an understanding of laws, regulations, as well as social, cultural and family influences on an individual. Licensed clinical social workers are therefore useful in complicated life situations which might be accompanied by mental health issues.

For example: Support during a combination of unemployment, child custody issues, and depression.

  • Main focus: Support, Therapy, Consultations, Management services
  • Degree: Master of Social work  (Bachelor’s in a related field)
  • Additional qualifications: Social Work Licensure exam
    (+ in certain states: supervised clinical experience)
  • Protected job title: ✔
  • Insurance coverage: ✔ (check with your provider to make sure)
  • Suitable for treating depression: ++

What Is a Life Coach?

Although a life coach might be helpful to some, it is not the recommended method for depression. Life coaches can be helpful for setting goals, meeting aspirations in our jobs, relationships, or lives. In short, they try to help us find a healthier approach to life in general.

However, if you think that you might be facing depression, a life coach does not have the sufficient training to give you the quality therapy you deserve.

  • Main focus: Life crises, understanding doubts, making decisions, …
  • Degree: ✘ (None required)
  • Additional qualifications: ✘ (None required)
  • Protected job title: ✘
  • Insurance coverage: ✘
  • Suitable for treating depression: ✘

What Can Your Primary Care Physician Do?

Your primary care physician plays an important role in the diagnosis of depression. In fact, most diagnoses are made by these physicians, as they tend to be the first point of contact. After diagnosing a depression, they will direct you to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.

How to Begin – Support for the First Approach

It can be hard to know how to make the first step towards asking for help. Many people struggle with figuring out how to approach friends, family, or doctors. How do I find the right words? Will the doctor or therapist be able to understand me?

For many, the first consultation is the hardest. Moodpath can help you with this first step. It will ask you questions concerning your mental and physical well-being three times a day over the course of two weeks. Thereafter, you will receive a sound assessment of your mental health, which you will be able to print out in the form of a doctor’s letter and take with you to your first consultation appointment.

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