What's the difference between a therapist vs psychologist vs psychiatrist? What are the pros and cons?
Therapist vs Psychologist vs Psychiatrist?
Psychologists specialize in counseling. Psychiatrists specialize in prescribing and monitoring medications.
A psychotherapist is skilled in treating human emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Both Psychologists and Psychiatrists are therapists.
These are the professionals who can help you:
PhD or PsyD
Other mental health professionals
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
MFT, LCSW, etc.
PhD or PsyD
Advisor, motivator, thought partner
Note that coaches are not licensed by a state psychological board. However, certified coaches who have a PhD or PsyD are professional helpers and can help you.
When you think psychologist - think counseling and therapy.
Psychologists have their doctorates in psychology (PhD or PsyD). They've been trained to listen carefully, diagnose mental disorders and develop treatment plans in collaboration with you. They're trained to help you heal pain and solve the problems that get in the way of your quality of life, dreams and goals. With your permission, and if appropriate, they may also work with your family members or others who may be involved in your treatment plan.
Therapy involves (1) listening carefully and understanding your specific problem and pain, (2) providing education and information about how to overcome the problem (based on science), and (3) guiding you as you work to overcome your problem and achieve your goals.
Can Psychologists work with a client remotely using chat, phone or video conferencing?
Working with a client remotely is called telehealth or tele-mentalhealth. Psychologists are licensed in a particular state, and they can't practice outside of that state. However, they can work with a client remotely as long as both the client and psychologist are located in the state where the psychologist is licensed.
When you think psychiatrist - think medication.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in mental health. During your first appointment with a psychiatrist they will ask you to describe your problem, give you a diagnosis if you have one, and will usually discuss medication options with you.
Follow up appointments are usually less than an hour and are focused on how you're doing on the medications. Psychiatrists will assess whether you're on the right medication and the right dosage. You'll typically follow up with a psychiatrist at least once a month to monitor any side-effects and your progress.
Can Psychiatrists work with a client remotely using chat, phone or video conferencing?
Yes, it's the same for Psychologists and Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are licensed in a particular state, and they can't practice outside of that state. However, they can work with a patient remotely as long as both the patient and psychiatrist are located in the state where the psychiatrist is licensed.
Other Mental Health Professionals
Other mental health professionals such as Marriage and Family Therapists (DMFT, MFT) and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are similar to Psychologists and offer counseling services. Be sure to check how much training and education they have in Psychology. For example, a doctor (DMFT) has more training than a Master's level (MFT).
Similar to Psychologists, they can only practice in the state in which they are licensed.
When you think coach - think mentor, sounding board and thought partner.
A coach is someone who is trained and devoted to guiding clients to develop new life skills, overcome obstacles and increase confidence. Coaches are role models, mentors, wise helpers and guides who act as your "thought partner" and sounding board. They're focused on helping you achieve your dreams, goals and quality of life. Coaches tend to be future-oriented, and unlike psychologists, they don't focus on past pain.
For example, there are many Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) coaches. They help people with ADD organize and plan out activities for the day. Coaches provide coping strategies, motivation and help people stay on track with their goals. Anxiety coaches work in similar ways for anxiety issues.
Coaches work with clients by asking questions, listening carefully, clarifying goals, jointly creating strategies to overcome blocks to success, and jointly developing action steps (and homework when it makes sense).
When you're looking for a coach it's especially important to look at certifications and credentials. We recommend finding a coach with an advanced degree in Psychology (PhD, PsyD) and who has a Board Certified Coach (BCC) certification.
The BCC certification demonstrates the coach has:
- Met educational and training requirements
- Passed a psychometrically sound coach-specific examination
- Obtained experience in the field of coaching
- Professional peer references
- Accountability to an enforceable ethics code
- Commitment to continuing education
Can Coaches work with a client remotely using text, chat, phone or video conferencing?
Yes, coaches often work remotely.
The advantages of coaches is that they are not licensed in a particular state so they can practice across state lines and worldwide. They have no geographical boundaries which gives you a bigger pool of professionals to choose from.
Therapist vs Psychologist vs Psychiatrist?
There are a bunch of credentials in the mental health field, and it can be a bit confusing! See a List of Credentials in Psychology. The guidelines below should help.
- Work with someone who has extensive training and education in Psychology. Start with doctors (PhD, PsyD), and if you can't find someone at that level, try Master's level (MFT, LCSW).
- Find a professional who specializes in anxiety. This means they have studied anxiety for many years and have kept up on the latest scientific research.
- If you work with a coach, start by looking for reputable coaching certifications. Reputable credentials include the Board Certified Coach (BCC) and International Coach Federation (ACC, PCC, MCC).
- We recommend starting with BCC because you're more likely to find a coach with an advanced degree in Psychology and someone who specializes in anxiety.