Psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists (e.g. Licensed Mental Health Counselors or Licensed Clinical Social Workers) all have an important role in taking care of patients. While all professions are working towards the same goal of helping a patient improve his or her mental health, it is important to understand the differences so that one can know which provider fits his or her needs the best.

A notable difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists is their post-graduate education. All providers have a 4-year undergraduate college education, but their post-graduate education differs.

  • After undergraduate college, psychiatrists go to 4-year medical school (M.D. or D.O. programs), complete a 4-year residency in psychiatry, and some complete further training in psychiatry afterward in the form of fellowships. Most psychiatrists go on to become board-certified through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, which means that they meet a nationally recognized standard in experience and skills in their specialty. Being board-certified in psychiatry requires a physician to continue their medical education yearly and retake the board exam every ten years.
  • In contrast, psychologists pursue a 4-8 year research-focused Ph.D. or practice-focused Psy.D. that generally includes a year-long clinical internship. Psychologists can be focused on conducting research or on clinical practice. In California, state-licensed psychologists are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.
  • In general, licensed therapists complete a 1-2 year master’s degree and become licensed in their therapy specialty field of choice after their undergraduate education. Many licensed therapists need to take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists are all trained in providing therapy and counseling to patients, but the types of treatment they can provide patients and their roles in a patient’s care differ significantly.

  • Psychiatrists focus on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses through medicine. Due to their medical training, psychiatrists are able to prescribe and manage medication, evaluate a patient from a medical perspective, as well as perform medical treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and so on. Psychiatrists also provide therapy such as psychoeducation, supportive psychotherapy, and problem-solving therapy. Psychiatrists can also prescribe and supervise ketamine therapy.
  • Clinical psychologists focus also on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and are informed through their research background, but they cannot prescribe medications. Psychologists are able to provide psychotherapy and perform testing assessments to diagnose and treat patients.
  • Licensed therapists cannot diagnose patients nor provide medical treatment, but they can perform talk therapy and counseling in the specialty field that they are licensed in.

At ClearInsight Psychiatry, Dr. Liang is an American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology certified psychiatrist and Ripal Patel is a board-certified Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. We believe in collaborative care and work with therapists to improve a patient’s well-being. Many mental health professionals share our beliefs as well and can help direct patients to the best treatment for them. If you are suffering, it is important to get help.