What is the Difference Between Psychotherapists, Counselors, Therapists, and Psychologists in Oakland?
As you start the process of looking for therapeutic support in your life, it’s normal to feel confused by the various professional titles out there. Do you need to look for a therapist or a counselor? A psychotherapist or a psychologist? What about a social worker? There are even more titles out there, but let’s start with these common designations. We’ll break each of them down and compare.
- What is a psychotherapist? Psychotherapy is a general term that refers to the treatment of mental and emotional issues and challenges. A psychotherapist is a licensed professional with a master’s degree who treats these issues using various modalities depending on their training, education, and approach. A psychotherapist helps people with various issues through a psychological lens taking into account our thoughts, emotions, dreams, relationships, and even physical symptoms. A psychotherapist can specialize in anxiety, depression, relationship issues, self-esteem, stress, grief and loss, major life changes, perinatal issues, parenting, and the list goes on. Although anyone with a license listed under the “therapist” section can provide psychotherapy, it most often refers to a marriage and family therapist, social worker, or psychologist.
- What is a counselor? A licensed professional counselor can provide psychotherapy with a focus on offering guidance and advice to people struggling with various issues in life. They have a master’s degree and typically specialize in helping people address challenges around stress, major life changes, grief, career, and more. While a marriage and family therapist can help with the same issues, they focus more on the contributing factor of relationship dynamics and emotions while a counselor focuses on a variety of causes. An interesting point to note is that a counselor is a licensed professional, whereas a life coach (yet another trending designation) is an unlicensed and unregulated professional title.
- What is a therapist? Therapist is a term that is used interchangeably with the various licenses in the field of psychology. Licensed therapists include marriage and family therapists (LMFT’s), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW’s), licensed professional counselors (LPC’s), licensed mental health counselors (LMHC’s), and licensed psychologists (PhD’s or PsyD’s) and psychiatrists (MD’s). The title is also used in medical, health, and wellness settings to refer to certified professionals. For example, you might work with a massage therapist or physical therapist.
- What is a psychologist? A psychologist is a licensed professional with a doctoral level degree who may treat mental health issues and/or conduct research studies to contribute to the field of psychology. They may primarily perform research (PhD), or they might primarily provide psychotherapy (PsyD). A psychologist who provides psychotherapy typically specializes in their area of research like anxiety, depression, and severe mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia. They may also administer psychological tests and assessments to appropriately diagnose specific and severe mental health issues.
The best way to find the right psychotherapist for you is to schedule a consultation. Refer to our post on The Most Common Questions to Ask an Oakland Therapist. Above all, what makes therapy most effective is your relationship with your therapist or counselor. You want to feel comfortable with the person behind the license. Feel them out. Book a session with a few therapists and see what they’re like in action.
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