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Comparing Mental Health Careers

Psychologist vs. Therapist: Comparing Mental Health Careers

If you’re trying to decide between becoming a psychologist or a therapist, you’re probably a deeply curious person who enjoys analyzing and trying to understand people and their motivations. If that’s the case, you’re probably well suited for a rewarding career in mental health. But which professional path is right for you?

When comparing psychologist versus therapist positions, you’ll quickly find there are many commonalities when it comes to roles and responsibilities. But there are some key differences to consider as you make your final decision. Keep reading for an in-depth comparison as you evaluate your mental health career options.

Psychologist vs. therapist: The basic differences

If you’re looking for an occupation that makes a meaningful impact on others, you’ll find that in each of these roles. But there are differences between psychologist and therapist careers when it comes to education requirements, licensure standards, and salary potentials.

In order to compare these fields at the most basic level, let’s first define “psychologist” and “therapist.” The terms are often used interchangeably by those who aren’t familiar with them, which is why it can be difficult to determine which role is right for you.

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists are trained social scientists with advanced degrees who work in academic and clinical research in addition to consulting with clients and patients. They are equipped to diagnose and treat severe mental illness. Some of these cases may even require hospitalization.

What is a therapist?

A therapist is an all-encompassing term for a trained professional who provides a wide variety of treatments, services, interventions and support to people of all ages. Therapists often hold titles like marriage counselor, life coach, social worker or addiction counselor.


Psychologist vs. therapist: Roles and responsibilities

As you’ll notice from the definitions above, psychologists and therapists partake in a very similar type of work, but day-to-day responsibilities can vary. It’s important to note that psychologists often do provide therapy, but there are certain things psychologists can do that therapists can’t.

What do psychologists do?

Clinical psychologists help patients learn to overcome or cope with a variety of issues, spanning from mental health disorders to chronic conditions to addictions. They conduct tests and assessments to help diagnose a condition or learn more about why a person is feeling or acting a certain way. Some psychologists also conduct research to further understand human thoughts and behaviors.

Psychologists often use types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychotherapy, to help their patients. Sometimes, they determine that medication is a necessary form of treatment. There are a few states in which licensed psychologists are permitted to prescribe certain medications, but most psychologists work with primary-care physicians or psychiatrists to obtain prescriptions for their patients.

What do therapists do?

Therapists, on the other hand, most often specialize in one of three areas: marriage and family therapy, group therapy, or individual therapy. Unlike psychologists, they typically are not focused on research.

Therapists typically focus on providing support and guidance for their clients, helping them make decisions and clarify their feelings in order to overcome problems. In individual, couple or group settings, they provide counseling on marital problems, substance abuse, behavioral issues and more.

Another big difference between a psychologist and a therapist is their ability to diagnose conditions or recommend medications. While psychologists often work in tandem with psychiatrists or other doctors to secure prescriptions, therapists are not qualified to do this.


Psychologist vs. therapist: Education and training

As we explained above, psychologists can be referred to as therapists, but not all therapists are psychologists. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that psychologists typically have higher education and licensing requirements than therapists.

How do you become a psychologist?

In order to practice in a clinical setting, psychologists must meet certain requirements when it comes to education and licensure. Specific requirements will vary by state, but in most cases, the minimum degree required is a doctoral degree in psychology.

After graduating, you’ll need to follow the steps necessary to obtain state licensure. Most states require passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). You may also be required to conduct two years of clinical supervision to be eligible for licensure.

Additional training or credentials may be required for certain types of psychologists, such as school psychologists or forensic psychologists.

How do you become a therapist?

The path to become a therapist can also vary quite a bit depending on the route you choose. Most positions require at least a master’s degree, often aligning with the area in which they specialize.

Licensing requirements will vary depending on state and specialty. This process often involves logging thousands of supervised clinical hours and meeting continuing-education requirements.


Psychologist vs. therapist: Earning potential

Both psychologists and therapists tend to earn a higher-than-average salary. So the years devoted to education and training will be worth it once you enter the field.

How much do psychologists make?

Psychologists are well compensated for the challenging and impactful work they do for patients. Earning potential will vary based on the particular specialty, but consider these 2019 median annual psychologist salaries as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL):

  • School psychologist: $78,200/year
  • Industrial psychologist: $92,880/year
  • Neuropsychologist: $101,790/year

How much do therapists make?

Therapists can also expect to make a good living throughout their careers. For a better understanding of a typical therapist salary, the DOL reports the following salary numbers for some common therapy positions in 2019:

  • Substance abuse counselor: $46,240/year
  • Recreational therapist: $48,220/year
  • Marriage and family therapist: $49,610/year

Find your fit in the mental health field

When considering psychologist versus therapist careers, you can’t go wrong. Professionals in both fields play a meaningful role in helping people live productive and happy lives. Now that you know more about the differences, you can start to determine which mental health career is right for you.

Regardless of which path you choose, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a smart first step. Psychology students here at the University of St. Thomas (UST) gain the foundational knowledge and training needed to pursue an advanced degree in either field.

Learn more about the Psychology programs at UST.

Ready to take the next step?

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