Doctoral level mental health professionals (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) who spend an average of seven years in education and training after they receive their undergraduate degree. Psychologists obtain either a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.), or a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D). Psychologists with a Ph.D. have graduate training that can emphasize research or a combination of research and clinical training; those with a Psy.D. complete graduate training that focuses predominantly on clinical practice; and those with an Ed.D. have graduate training within the college of education of a university and typically have training focused on development and learning.
There are various specializations within the field of psychology: clinical, counseling, clinical neuropsychology, school, developmental, forensic, industrial/organizational (I/O), and experimental psychology. The state of Louisiana typically licenses Psychologists in the first four specialties for clinical practice. Once licensed in Louisiana (and a few other states), additional training can be sought to obtain a degree in Medical Psychology (MP) to prescribe psychotropic medication (e.g. antidepressants). Psychologists can be found in several settings including private practice, hospitals, community clinics, primary & secondary education, colleges/universities, private industry, and prisons.
Clinically, people may seek evaluations from Psychologists to help diagnose a condition or clarify how the person thinks, feels, and behaves. These evaluations may be of intellectual skills, vocational aptitude, personality characteristics, and neuropsychological functioning. Some people seek assistance from Psychologists because they have felt depressed or anxious for a long time. Other people may seek clinical services to help with addiction, problems with memory/concentration, managing a chronic medical condition, or coping with stressful life circumstances.
What is the difference between psychologists, counselors, social workers,therapists, and psychiatrists?
These terms all refer to different types of mental health providers, distinguished from one another by their type of degree, training, license, etc. The best way to tell the difference between provider types is to pay attention to their credentials or the letters following their names. The definitions below refer specifically to licensed mental health professionals, though some providers working with clients can be working towards licensure (post-doctoral fellows and residents) and receiving supervision for their work by a licensed professional in their field or specialization.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) with specialized training in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychological disorders. Given that they are physicians, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications for a wide variety of mental health concerns. Some psychiatrists receive training in different types of psychotherapy and may offer these services to their clients in addition to medication management.
Social Workers (LMSWs and LCSWs)
There are two primary types of practicing social workers: Licensed Masters of Social Work (LMSWs) and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs). These professionals both complete a master of social work (MSW) education program followed by 2-3 years of supervised practice prior to taking the Association of Clinical Social Work examination, which allows them to practice independently in a clinical setting. LMSWs can perform similar tasks to LCSWs; however, they are not allowed to practice independently and without supervision. One can also obtain a Doctorate in Social Work.
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs)
LPCs are typically clinicians with a masters level degree (usually M.A., M.S., or M.Ed.), though some have doctoral degrees. After graduate training, LPCs complete 2-3 years of required supervised practice and pass the National Counseling Examination (NCE). Counselors typically offer psychotherapy services to treat clients with a variety of challenges; however, training may not be sufficient to treat major mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, various developmental disorders, or personality disorders, and they do not provide formal testing/assessments.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs)
LMFTs are usually LPCs or LSCWs with specialized training in marriage and family therapy specifically.
Psychotherapist is a term used by therapists who provide specific types of therapy such as psychoanalytic or psychodynamic that tend to be long-term in nature and focus on the origins of mental health challenges and enables clients to understand and overcome negative or cumbersome feelings. however, the term psychotherapist is often used interchangeably with word therapy.
Therapist is a general term for any mental health professional who provides therapy and does not reflect a specific type of licensure.
How is Psychology Different from Other Mental Health Fields?
All licensed mental health professionals study and treat both normal and abnormal functioning, treat patients with mental and emotional problems, and also study and encourage behaviors that build wellness and emotional resilience. Often, the differences that emerge are a result of the extent and specialization of education, training, and populations served.