The most important thing to understand is that Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Therapists all provide an integral service to those who seek their help. They are all considered mental health professionals. Oftentimes, an individual is best served by working with a combination of all, since medication and therapy may each be necessary. In most cases, an individual can start by seeking help from one type of professional and then be referred to another professional if indicated.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors, as described above, who diagnose psychiatric conditions, manage medical issues, prescribe medications, and provide psychotherapy. The practice of using medications to treat psychiatric conditions is referred to as “psychopharmacotherapy.” Because they are also medical doctors, psychiatrists may order lab work or other tests to monitor progress. Psychiatrists also collaborate with other medical doctors, such as pediatricians, neurologists, endocrinologists, and family medicine doctors, in order to provide the best medical care.
Psychologists have also completed post-graduate training, but in a different setting than psychiatrists. They have completed a doctoral program that is non-medical. Psychologists often specialize in administering specialized diagnostic testing as well as therapy in a variety of settings. They do not prescribe medications, but their services are very important.
Therapists / Counselors have usually completed post-graduate training in a Master’s program, and there are a variety of licensures that can be obtained. The terms “therapist” and “counselor” are often used interchangeably. Therapists and counselors typically focus on providing psychotherapy, or counseling, to individuals, families, couples, or groups, in a variety of settings and specialties.
Social Workers usually have a Masters of Social Work (MSW) or can be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). In all of these forms the goal of the social worker is to empower the client to be able to see their own inner strengths and build upon them so that they can overcome the challenges they are facing in their lives. Social workers assess, treats and evaluates individual, interpersonal and societal problems through the use of social work knowledge, skills and strategies. Social workers often work in multi-disciplinary teams alongside health and education professionals. Professional social workers are the largest group of mental health services providers.
- How to Find a Therapist featuring ADAA board president, Beth Salcedo, MD and ADAA member Lynn Bufka, PhD
- How to Tell if You Should See a Psychiatrist Versus a Psychologist featuring ADAA member Michelle G. Newman, PhD
- Download our "Important Questions for Your Therapist and Insurance Carrier" infographic.
- Mental Health Specialists at a Glance - Child Mind Institute