Therapists vs Psychologists: How are they different?

A common question in mental healthcare is: What is the difference between a therapist and a psychologist? Sometimes, the terms are used interchangeably, and there is a bit of confusion.

By Emma Hainsworth on Mar 19, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

Get Carepatron Free

A common question asked within the mental healthcare space is what is the difference between a therapist and a psychologist? Sometimes, the terms are used interchangeably, and there appears to be quite a bit of confusion surrounding their context and definitions in both group and private practices. However, therapists and psychologists have slight differences, and it's important that you become acquainted with them. 

Using the correct terminology is a huge component of healthcare. Maybe you'll need the help of a licensed clinical social worker or a clinical psychologist someday. So, you must wrap your head around which term to use in what situation. It's more than just semantics; employing the right terminology at the right time can elevate the quality of your professional practice, and ensure that you provide patients with the highest level of care.

Therapists and psychologists have different responsibilities, however slight, and you must become familiar with them to prioritize patient needs and grow your business in a focused direction.

Click here to view on YouTube

Understanding a therapist's occupation

A therapist is a broad term that applies to a number of psychological professions. This means that all psychologists can be referred to as therapists; however, not all therapists are considered psychologists. For example, there are many different types of mental health counselors and life coaches who work within the therapy specialty, but they are not considered psychologists due to the lack of training and qualifications required.

There can be licensed and unlicensed therapists, and each of them will use different approaches to evaluate the psychological well-being of a client. Additionally, they can provide diagnoses and specific treatments to improve the quality of life of their clients and treat mental health conditions.

Who is a psychologist?

A psychologist, on the other hand, is a social scientist who has specific training within a subfield of psychology. This typically involves intensive education experience, which may entail a master's degree or a doctoral degree, in addition to an undergraduate degree. Psychologists must be registered and approved after several clinical hours have been completed.

There are also many different specialties within psychology—including child psychology—and some psychologists continue with academic research. Whereas, others choose to advance within mental health concerns and illness fields to work within therapeutic and clinical settings. There are many different types of psychologists including child, organizational, industrial, developmental, forensic, and school psychologists to name a few.

Are there similarities between a therapist and a psychologist?

There are multiple similarities between therapists and psychologists, including that they both focus on mental health. Many therapists and psychologists share the same foundation for expanding their knowledge of emotional well-being. Therapists and psychologists tend to have an extensive understanding of mental illnesses and how they are presented, as well as how they are treated and how they are assessed. Both are likely to meet with patients in an appointment to work towards treatment plans that alleviate mental health issues, problems, challenges, and barriers. Both disciplines also aim to increase the day-to-day well-being of clients and work towards improved mental health.  

Additionally, neither therapist nor psychologist can prescribe medication to clients. This responsibility falls to psychiatrists, who are trained doctors and are authorized to prescribe medications. Although psychologists need greater training than therapists, in a general sense, both therapists and psychologists will need to have the right licenses to be able to comply with regulatory bodies and assist patients. This also includes counselors and mentors, as expertise and authority should be proven in cases where professional judgment is required, however, this isn't as heavily enforced. 

Key differences between therapist and psychologist

Of course, there are numerous key differences about the topic of "therapist vs psychologist" that you should know about. Although mistakenly used interchangeably, each discipline has some nuances to consider when using the terms:


One of the major differences between therapists and psychologists is the number and type of specialties that each can train and specialize in.

For psychologists, there are numerous branches that they may specialize in, and that is useful to understand a mental disorder or illness better and to further the depth and care of psychological research. For instance, legal, forensic, developmental, organizational, child, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists can aid in numerous fields. 

Therapists also have specializations, however, they differ from psychologists in that they do not necessarily focus on branches. Rather, they focus on concentrated areas that may not be as broad. Many therapists hold specialized titles such as licensed marriage and family therapists and counselors, as well as licensed certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors.

Qualifications and training

Perhaps one of the greatest distinctions between therapists and psychologists is the training and qualifications involved within each specialty. Psychologists undertake extensive training, usually attending graduate school and earning a postgraduate degree, whether that be a master's degree or a Ph.D. This is accompanied by clinical internships, state exams, and clinical rotations in order to treat patients within a professional clinical setting. Psychologists will need to be registered for thousands of hours before they are recognized, whereas therapists do not require even a quarter of this training. 

Therapists can hold licenses; however, many states do not enforce or govern qualifications especially those within the life coach area. Although advanced degrees can elevate the quality of service therapists provide, it is not essential. Because psychologists rely on diagnosing and understanding patients in a clinical sense, they are required to undertake more training, whereas therapists do not have to diagnose.

Areas of treatment

Psychologists tend to be trained in symptom-focused treatments for mental health, which can typically range from short-term to long-term. As mentioned, they can be within various psychology branches and are based on scientific evidence and research approaches led by social scientists. This differs majorly from therapists, where counselors, life coaches, mentors, and psychotherapists tend to utilize talk therapy and focus on specific issues in specific areas. This typically includes addictions and substance abuse counseling, as well as couples and marriage counseling, to name a few. In any area that a therapist sees demand for, relevant therapy specializations can develop. 

Framework use

Finally, therapists and psychologists also differ as they tend to gravitate towards different frameworks. Psychologist frameworks tend to be rooted in academic research and science-based experiments, whereas therapy frameworks work with the client's goals and objectives in mind and can be amended according to needs.

Therapist frameworks are perhaps more flexible in this sense, whereas psychologist frameworks are typically used for specific situations, and to treat certain disorders. For example, psychologists commonly use cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, which are highly developed cognitive frameworks to assist client health. Many therapists will utilize frameworks they may have developed or that work best with the client.

Mental health professionals' role in treating mental illnesses

When navigating the complexities of mental health disorders, the expertise and guidance of qualified mental health professionals, including clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and mental health counselors, become invaluable. Mental health conditions, ranging from common disorders such as anxiety and depression to severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can significantly impact a patient's emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

Mental health professionals—spanning roles from therapists and counselors in private practice to psychologists with advanced degrees in clinical psychology—play a critical role in diagnosing, treating, and managing mental health issues. Their approaches to treatment, grounded in evidence-based practices, may vary, but their primary goal is to improve clients' quality of life.

Therapists, such as family therapists and licensed therapists, typically provide support, develop coping strategies, and facilitate behavioral changes using talk therapy. In contrast, psychologists and counseling psychologists, who have extensive training in human behavior and mental processes, provide deeper insights into mental disorders. This contributes to more tailored and effective treatment plans for the patient's mental health condition.

Collaboration among these mental health professionals, along with psychiatrists—who, as medical doctors, have attended medical school and can diagnose mental health issues and prescribe medications—often results in a comprehensive treatment approach that addresses both the biological and psychological aspects of mental illness. This multidisciplinary effort includes medication management, behavioral health interventions, and various therapeutic modalities, ensuring a holistic approach to mental health care.

Understanding the unique contributions of each type of mental health professional, from clinical psychologists specializing in diagnosing mental illness to marriage and family therapists focused on family therapy, allows individuals seeking help to make informed decisions about their care. This ensures they receive the support that best meets their mental health needs, whether that involves counseling psychology, behavioral struggles, or more complex mental health diagnoses.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with more in-depth information regarding the use of therapist and psychologist terminologies. While each presents its own similarities, saying the terms are interchangeable can neglect some of their nuances and differences, which validate them as different specializations. Therapists and psychologists are distinctly different, and as a clinician, you should ensure that you continue to uphold expertise and authority by classifying each one in an appropriate manner. 

This is also important if you are a licensed mental health counselor or professional, and are branding yourself as either a therapist or psychologist. Make sure that you have the right qualifications and licensing in place, to uphold ethical and honest mental health services and standards, and that you are representing the level of education and experience you have acquired.

Psychology Software

Related Comparisons

Right ArrowRight Arrow

Mood Disorder vs. Personality Disorder

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

What is the difference between CBT and REBT?

Licensed vs. Unlicensed Therapist

Counselor vs Therapists: What is the difference?

Difference between psychotherapy and counseling

Practice management system vs EHR: What should practitioners know

Private pay vs insurance in private practice

Carepatron vs TherapyNotes

Carepatron vs Fusion Web Clinic

Carepatron vs. TheraNest

Carepatron vs SimplePractice

Carepatron vs Practice Perfect

Carepatron vs Powerdiary

Join 10,000+ teams using Carepatron to be more productive

One app for all your healthcare work