Differences Among Mental Health Professionals

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion associated with the mental health field. Movies, television, and other media only add to the problem. Such sources frequently confuse job titles such as Psychiatrist , Psychologist and Counselor.

In this article, I will clearly explain the differences among the major professions in the mental health area.

Mental Health Professionals

Psychiatrist- A psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor (MD). Psychiatrists must complete medical school, residency/internship, as well as additional training in mental health, focusing on diagnosing mental disorders and psycho-pharmacology (the “doling out of meds,” so to speak). Often thought of as the “highest” of the mental health professionals, psychiatrists are actually not as well-trained in “talk therapy.”

Most psychiatrists primarily assess and diagnose, prescribe and manage medication for mental illnesses. Psychiatrists also frequently refer patients to other mental health professionals such as counselors or psychologists.

Psychologist- A Psychologist is almost always a mental health profession who holds a doctorate degree in the psychology field. The only exception is school psychology, where one can hold a Master’s degree and practice. Psychologists who provide direct patient services (psychotherapy) are usually Clinical or Counseling psychologists. In addition to the doctorate degree, Psychologists must complete a supervised internship upon graduation. Psychologists generally have the most training in actual mental health/psychology.


Psychologists offer psychotherapy services in a wide range of areas. Some areas which psychologists frequently work are mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders; past traumas such as abuse or other tragedy, and much more. Psychologists tend to deal more with more severe mental illnesses and complex/chronic personal problems.

Counselor- Counselors vary in training and focus. Some counselors only hold a bachelor’s degree, although such counselors usually need to be supervised by a licensed psychologist or counselor. Many counselors have a master’s degree. Some counselors have a doctorate degree, although at that point they usually call themselves Counseling Psychologists.

Counselors do a wide assortment of jobs. There are school counselors, marriage & family counselors/therapists, agency and mental health counselors. In addition to schooling, counselors must complete a supervised internship in order to apply for licensure. There are various counselor licenses, but the most popular one is that of a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Which to choose: When looking for a mental health professional, there are many things to consider. If you have a disorder/illness which you think requires medication, you need to see a psychiatrist. You probably will also want to see a psychologist or counselor to receive psychotherapy, though. A good mental health professional knows his/her limitations. If you consult a mental health profession who isn’t qualified to help you with your mental health issue, he/she should refer you to someone who can. With the proper treatment, you, too, can lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

Disclaimers: This information is for general knowledge/educational purposes only. This article is not meant to replace actual mental health treatment. Licensure laws vary by state. If you or someone you know if in need of mental health treatment, refer to the provided links or call your local mental health agency or doctor for assistance.