Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Therapist:
What's the Difference?
Lynbrook, NY 11563
Late evening appointments available
Skype sessions available in New York
Medicare & AARP Supplemental accepted
Understanding the differences between different
types of mental health providers
Several times a week, someone asks me what my credentials mean and how my qualifications and methods differ from those of other types of mental health providers, especially psychologists and psychiatrists. Here's a summary of the different types of providers, from my perspective.
Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have been fully trained in general medicine and who have a completed a residency and been certified in psychiatry. They hold an MD or DO credential. Most psychiatrists focus on providing patients with medications to manage their psychiatric issues. Very few routinely provide psychotherapy (talk therapy). This is largely due to economic and insurance issues. Most psychiatrists are reluctant to provide medication to children. Instead, they refer to pediatric psychiatrists, who have completed a residency and been certified in pediatric psychiatry.
Psychologists: can practice at either a masters degree of doctoral level. Masters level psychologists have an MA or MS in psychology. True doctors of psychology have either a PhD or PsyD credential. Masters-level psychologists usually practice under the supervision of a fully-licensed doctor of psychology. Psychologists cannot provide medication. Their work is focused on either providing psychotherapy or testing. If you have been asked to have psychological testing, you probably want to work with a PhD or PsyD. Though it isn't true for psychologist, their training emphasizes a scientific approach to treating individual mental health issues. Their focus is generally on the individual's way of thinking.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers: Licensed Clinical Social Workers have a masters degree in
clinical social work, an MSW, supplemented by three or more years of supervised work and
passage of a licensing exam. They have the LCSW credential. They do most of the therapy
in the US. They work with individuals and groups, and with both adults and children, depending on
their training and specialization. LCSW's training in social work leads them to have a more
ecological perspective: seeing the person as part of a system of relationships, all of which have an
effect on individual mental functioning. LCSW's tend to focus on a person's behavior and relationships
as much as their thinking and feeling. They are fully trained therapists, but they cannot do testing
or prescribe medications.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists are another group of masters level providers with a social work background. Their training is particular to couples therapy or family therapy. They distinguish themselves with the LMFT credential.
In most hospitals and social work agencies, most of the work is performed by Licensed Masters-Level Social Workers. They have the LMSW credential. Their training is usually in a non-clinical aspect of social work, such as program development, group work, or medical social work. LMSW clinicians are often in an early stage of their career, working under the supervision of an LCSW. After three years, they can sit for the LCSW licensing exam.
Other types of mental health providers: There are many different types of mental health providers besides those listed above. These include Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC), Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC), Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC), Psychiatric Nurses (RN), Certified Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counselors (CASAC), and Pastoral Counselors. All have valid approaches and training for helping people overcome their problems.