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Types of Mental Health Professionals

People outside the mental health professions are often unaware of the differences between the designations psychologist, psychiatrist and social workers, and the more generic terms counselor or therapist. The differences are significant, so read this section if you are not already familiar with the particular professions and titles.


For more information on what a psychologist is, please visit this site.

A psychologist has a doctoral degree in psychology (a Ph.D., Ed.D., or Psy.D.), requiring approximately five to six years of formal education and training beyond a four-year college degree. Clinical and counseling psychologists have had intense instruction in the practice of psychotherapy and in the psychological underpinnings of human behavior. Psychologists are licensed by the state. They do not prescribe medications in most states though some states are beginning to allow this when a psychologist receives additional training.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) and has specialized training in the biological basis of behavior. Many psychiatrists do provide psychotherapy and all can prescribe medications. Psychiatrists are also licensed by the state in which they practice.

Social Worker

A social worker has a master's degree in social work (MSW or LCSW when licensed), requiring two to three years of formal education and training beyond a four-year college degree.

Other Counselors

The terms counselor, therapist and psychotherapist are non-specific and can refer to all person certified or registered by the state. Such persons may have training ranging from a master's degree in psychology (a two-year graduate degree, certified) to little or no formal training.

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