Psychologist vs Psychiatrist.. What’s the Difference?

Ever get confused by the many different titles that mental health care providers have? You’re certainly not alone! It’s one of the most commonly asked questions that we get in our office! So here is a quick and, hopefully, easy guide to navigating the mental health titles:


Therapist: This is a really broad umbrella term for anyone who serves as a healer through the practice of talk therapy (e.g. counselor, social worker, psychologist).

Social Worker: These next two terms are essentially the same, so bear with me here!  When someone gets their masters degree in social work they have many options for careers. Oftentimes social workers pursue jobs working in an advocacy position. To become a therapist, social workers can take a clinical route in their schooling .

Counselor: A professional counselor has a masters degree in, typically, Counseling Psychology. Counselors go to school specifically to become counselors and so the curriculum is heavily weighed with techniques, understanding psychopathology, and working with clients throughout their schooling. Counselors are therapists and they have the same jobs as social workers who take a clinical route.

Psychologist: These folks go through a lot of schooling in order to get a PhD or a PsyD. This means that they have a doctoral degree and, yes, you can call them “Dr!” Psychologists have the highest education on psychological problems and personal development. They often work as therapists, but what sets them apart is their ability to do psychological testing. Psychologists do not have prescribing authority so they cannot help you if you are looking for medication.

Psychiatrist: This is the only type of professional on the list who can write a prescription for a medication. These are people who have gone through medical school and are trained doctors. Many psychiatrists have additional, specialized schooling in psychotropic (mental health) medications that goes beyond the knowledge of a generalized doctor.

Family Support Worker: This is someone who helps support caretakers and families with children with mental health diagnoses. A family support worker has personal experience caring for a child with mental health struggles. They are also required to go through specialized training and testing in order to serve this role.

Peer Support Worker: A Certified Peer Support Specialist uses their lived experience with a mental illness to engage, educate, advocate, guide, and support clients with a serious and persistent mental illness. Someone in this role must go through training and take a test to serve as a peer support specialist. Peers offer hope and encouragement by sharing their experiences and knowledge.

Community Based Rehabilitative Services (CBRS): CBRS workers provide in-home and community support to adults experiencing severe mental illness. CBRS workers are required to have at least a bachelors degree or more in the social sciences (like psychology, sociology, etc.) and are required to go through testing to serve in this role. They help people maintain mental stability by helping clients achieve measurable goals related to daily living.

Targeted Case Managers (TCM): TCMs help people access local, state, and federal services. Some of these services include SSI, SSD, food stamps, housing, energy assistance, transportation, and making medical appointments. TCMs are required to have at least a bachelors degree. Case Managers are an additional support for clients who need help in finding resources within their community to further their support and recovery.


Lisa Wilmore, LPC

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