What is the Difference Between a Psychotherapist and a Clinical Psychologist?

Updated November 18, 2022 · 2 Min Read

Learn more about a career as a Psychotherapist vs. Clinical Psychologist and determine the right career path for you.

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Psychology students who are figuring out what kind of psychology professional they’d like to be after graduation often ask the question, what is the difference between a psychotherapist and a clinical psychologist? Although these aren’t the only types of professions, with over seven professions listed in psychology, they are the most popular. Here are some of the ways that these professions are different.

Psychotherapist is an Umbrella Term

One of the biggest differences between these two professions is that one is an umbrella term while the other is a very specific profession; confusion between the two is common and has led to some people seeking help from the wrong professional.

A psychotherapist is an umbrella term, meaning all clinical psychologists, along with other psychology professionals, can put themselves under this term. A psychotherapist is a name that is given to professionals who provide therapy for clients.

Clinical Psychologists Have One Focus

Clinical psychologists differ from psychotherapists in one other major area: the area of emphasis of their work.

Clinical psychologists are either research-focused or applied in their emphasis; this professional can work as a researcher in labs and academic settings or become a therapist that works with clients in a clinical or private setting.

Psychotherapists generally only work in therapy with clients and don’t do any research. They can be found in schools, medical settings, community health centers and more.

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Academic Requirements Matter

When it comes to education, psychotherapists and clinical psychologists have requirements that need to be met before becoming licensed or certified. For both professions, a college education is required, which includes training in a real-world setting and research projects; at least an undergraduate degree is required for anyone looking to become certified in either profession.

But there are differences between the education that is required of psychotherapists and that of clinical psychologists.

Clinical psychologists major in psychology at the undergraduate degree level and then move on into clinical psychology programs at the doctorate level, which requires four more years of school. They are also required to complete clinical placements and a research thesis as well. Only after graduation can this professional seek licensure in their state; requirements for licensure can differ between states.

Psychotherapists, on the other hand, do not require an undergraduate education based in psychology; psychotherapy training begins at the graduate level, so as long as a student comes from a professional background, they will eligible to train as a psychotherapist. This profession requires a graduate education and some applied practice. Some states require psychotherapists to have certifications.

Professional Background can Differ

Professional backgrounds vary widely between psychotherapists and clinical psychologists, meaning that choosing one or the other comes with advantages.

Psychotherapists can have formal training in any profession prior to becoming a professional in psychology. This can include medicine, psychology, public policy, criminal justice, and more. They gain their professional training in this field at the graduate level, taking on internships while in school to understand how the career works.

Clinical psychologists, however, have worked nearly their entire adult life in psychology. Because so much schooling and clinical placements are required for clinical psychologists, they rarely work in any other industry, ensuring that they have a long and successful academic and professional career prior to being certified as a professional.

The psychology field can be difficult to navigate, particularly for students who know whether or not they want to be researchers or therapists. The above article has answered the question, what is the difference between a psychotherapist and a clinical psychologist, and will allow both students and clients find the therapist that works best for them.

See also: Top 25 Most Affordable Master’s Degrees in Counseling in the Northeast

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