Counselor vs Therapist vs Psychologist vs Psychiatrist – FAQ Guide

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 7, 2023
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Navigating the mental health landscape can be daunting, especially when unsure who to turn to for help.

Counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists play valuable roles in supporting mental health, but understanding their unique skill sets and functions as mental health counselors can help you make an informed decision.

Our Online Mental Health Review Team comprises several mental health professionals with decades of experience in the field.

Let’s delve into what each of these mental health professionals does and how they might be able to support you on your journey to wellness.

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Counselor vs Therapist vs Psychologist vs Psychiatrist

counselor vs therapist vs psychologist vs psychiatrist


Counselors are professionals who help individuals navigate through life’s challenges, such as grief, stress, or addiction. They work to identify goals and potential solutions to problems that cause emotional turmoil.

  • Empathetic Approach: Counselors often use compassion, allowing individuals to feel heard and understood.
  • Focus Area: They might specialize in addiction, career counseling, or family therapy.
  • Training: Typically, they hold a master’s degree in counseling or a related field.


Therapists, or psychotherapists, are healthcare professionals who help individuals understand and manage their mental health and emotional issues.

  • Versatile Methods: Therapists use a variety of methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and more.
  • Range of Issues: They can address various issues, from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and trauma.
  • Training: Therapists usually have a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, counseling, social work, or a related field.


Psychologists study the human mind and behavior. They can diagnose and treat various mental health disorders and often work in research or clinical settings.

  • Research-Based Approach: Psychologists often use evidence-based therapies and interventions.
  • Testing and Diagnosis: They can administer psychological tests and assessments for diagnosis.
  • Training: Psychologists typically hold a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They can diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe medication.

  • Medical Background: As physicians, psychiatrists can evaluate the physical aspects of mental health issues.
  • Prescribing Medication: They can prescribe medication to manage mental health disorders.
  • Training: Psychiatrists have completed medical school, followed by a residency in psychiatry.

Remember, it’s okay to seek help. You can even ask Just Answer, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health; professionals can offer different perspectives and treatments.


What is the difference between a therapist and a counselor?

Key differences between a therapist and a counselor:

  • Education: Therapists typically hold a master’s degree or higher in psychology or related fields, while counselors may have degrees in various disciplines.
  • Duration of treatment: Therapists often work with clients over a more extended period, addressing more profound issues, whereas counselors might focus on shorter-term, specific problems. source
  • Approach: While therapists delve into past traumas and experiences to understand current behaviors, counselors provide guidance and advice for specific issues.
  • Specializations: Therapists often specialize in marriage or family therapy, while counselors may specialize in substance abuse or career counseling.

Regardless of the title, finding a professional who makes you feel comfortable and understood is critical.

Is a therapist the same as a psychologist?

Understanding the Differences: Therapist, Psychiatrist, and Psychologist

Key distinctions:

  • Education: Psychologists usually hold a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or PsyD) in psychology, while therapists may have master’s degrees in various counseling disciplines.
  • Treatment approach: While both can provide psychotherapy, psychologists often focus on more long-term mental health issues and use psychological testing for diagnosis. Therapists might focus more on practical, present-day issues.
  • Research vs. Practice: Psychologists often research and teach alongside clinical practice, while therapists primarily focus on therapeutic approaches with clients.

Is it better to see a counselor or psychiatrist?

Understanding the Differences: Therapist, Psychiatrist, and Psychologist

Choosing between a counselor and a psychiatrist can feel daunting, but understanding their distinct roles can help you identify the best fit for your mental health journey.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Medication Management: If you’re dealing with a condition that may benefit from medication, a psychiatrist, as a medical doctor, can prescribe and manage this aspect of your treatment. source
  • Talk Therapy: If you’re looking for an environment to explore your feelings, thoughts, or behaviors in-depth, a counselor could be a good fit as they focus on talk-based therapy. source
  • Nature of Your Struggles: Psychiatrists often treat severe mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, while counselors might be more suited to helping with life transitions, relationship issues, or stress management.

Remember, it’s not a competition between the two professionals but rather about finding the right support for your unique needs. You might even find that a combination of both serves you best.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Career Opportunities

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Psychologist Careers: Psychologists often work in diverse environments like schools, hospitals, or private practice, focusing on assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health issues through psychotherapy.
  • Psychiatrist Careers: Psychiatrists, as medical doctors, can also work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, or private practices, where they diagnose and treat mental illnesses using both medication and psychotherapy.
  • Research Opportunities: Both psychologists and psychiatrists can engage in research, but the nature of their study might differ. Psychologists often focus on behavioral research, while psychiatrists might conduct clinical trials for new medications.

Can psychologists, counselors, or therapists prescribe medication?

online mental health medication with insurance

Understanding the realm of mental health treatment and medical treatments often comes with questions, one of which may be about who can prescribe medication. Here’s a clear answer to that:

  • Psychologists: In most U.S. states, psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medication. However, a few states allow prescribing privileges after additional training and certification.
  • Counselors and Therapists: These professionals cannot prescribe medication regardless of their specific titles. Their focus lies in talk therapy and behavioral interventions.
  • Psychiatrists: As medical doctors, psychiatrists have the authority to prescribe medication as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for mental health disorders.

Even if medication is a necessary part of your treatment plan, talk therapy with a psychologist, counselor, or therapist can still play a critical role in your journey toward improved mental health.

Is there a difference between counseling and therapy?

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Purpose: While counseling and treatment aim to improve mental health, counseling often focuses on specific issues like anxiety or transitions. In contrast, therapy may delve deeper into long-term patterns such as depression and comprehensive mental health improvement.
  • Duration: Counseling is usually short-term and goal-oriented, while therapy can be a longer process addressing broader issues.
  • Approach: Therapists may use a variety of psychological theories and methods, while counselors often use a solution-based method to help clients navigate specific challenges.

Whether you choose counseling or therapy, the most important thing is that you’re taking steps toward better mental health. It’s not about choosing the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ option but finding what works best for you in your unique journey.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Education and Training

continuing education online

Embarking on a career in mental health is a significant decision, and understanding the educational and medical training and requirements for psychologists and psychiatrists can help you map out your journey.

Here’s a quick comparison:

  • Education for Psychologists: To become a licensed psychologist, one typically needs to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree, which includes coursework, research, and supervised practical experience.
  • Education for Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors, meaning they must first complete an undergraduate degree, followed by medical school, earning either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.).
  • Training Differences: Psychologists often complete a supervised internship as part of their doctoral program, while psychiatrists must complete a residency in psychiatry after medical school, which typically lasts four years.

Counselor vs. Therapist vs. Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist Conclusion

Navigating mental health can feel overwhelming, but understanding the roles of mental health conditions professionals can make the journey smoother. Regardless of your mental health journey, remember that help’s always available, and reaching out is the first step toward healing.

For more distinctions between various mental health jobs/terms, please see our articles covering: salary comparison, psychiatrist vs psychologist (depression), therapist vs psychologist, depression, LPC vs PsyD, clinical psychologist, counseling versus coaching, mentors vs sponsors, psychotherapy vs CBT, therapy quiz, trauma coach vs therapist, therapist vs life coaches, hospital vs psych ward, and psychologist vs social worker.

Finally, we’d appreciate your thoughts! Suggest a mental health software you think the Online Mental Health Reviews platform should review next. Our team would love to hear about your experience!

If your organization is considering a mental health tool, please email us to request a review. If appropriate, we will secret shop the service your organization wants to learn more about and leave a comprehensive review.

If You Are In Crisis

Navigating a crisis can be overwhelming, and knowing that immediate help is available is crucial.

  • If you’re experiencing an emergency where your safety or the safety of others is at risk, don’t wait for an online therapy session – reach out for immediate assistance.
  • Dial 911 if you have plans to harm yourself or others. Alternatively, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is always there for you, reachable at 988, providing round-the-clock support if you’re contemplating self-harm.
  • For non-emergency, nonetheless urgent situations, you may want to try virtual urgent care via Sesame Care or DrHouse.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also operates a National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). This free, confidential service supports individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Remember, you’re not alone; help is always available.

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