The difference – Therapist, Psychologist, and Psychiatrist
The other day a client’s parent asked if I prescribed medication because she saw that my title notes “Licensed Clinical Psychologist”. I explained that only psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, and other doctors such as nurse practitioners, general practitioners, neurologists, and pediatricians can prescribe medication to individuals.
She was relieved because prescribing medication for mental health issues was at the bottom of the list for her child. It got me thinking though, how many other parents may be swayed to think that because my title has the word “clinical” I am pro medication prescription or that I can prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have a specialty in treating mental health disorders. They attend general medical school and then apply for a 3-4 year residency in psychiatry. In the past, psychiatrists offered psychotherapy, but now, most mainly prescribe medication after an initial consultation and then follow the client for medication management.
Psychologists include therapists with PsyD and Ph.D. degrees in clinical and counseling psychology. They attended approximately 5-6 years of graduate school, 1-2 years of internship, and 1-2 years of supervised clinical work experience before even earning their license. Their work is in psychotherapy, backed up by the psychological theory, research, and practice. Psychologists are the only group of therapists trained in psychological testing. This requires years of training in administration, interpretation, and integration of tests and test results. The term “psychologist” can only be used by someone with a state and national license and with the above training.
A therapist can include licensed mental health counselors (LMHC), clinical social workers (LCSW), and other mental health therapists who have earned a Master’s degree in their field. This includes 2 years of graduate education and 1-2 years of supervised work experience. They also work with individuals to help them overcome mental health issues.
Here in Miami, many experienced and seasoned therapists hold Master’s degrees from local universities and doctorate or psychologist degrees from their home country. It is often cumbersome and costly for psychologists immigrating to the United States to re-attend graduate school given the number of years necessary to earn that degree and especially if they already have that breadth of knowledge and experience.
Regardless of the therapist’s title, what is most important is the connection made between the client and the clinician. As therapists, we may have different backgrounds but our main goal is to help the client improve their day to day living and enjoy life to its fullest.