What is the Difference Between Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Counselors?

| Staff Writers

If you have thought about a career in mental health you may be wondering about the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors. After all, they are all mental health professionals and they work in fields that sometimes overlap. These practitioners have different approaches, however, and their licensing requires different education.

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What is a Psychologist?

Licensed Psychologists usually hold PhD degrees in psychology. According to “Web MD” they diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses. With the exception of New Mexico and Louisiana, states do not allow psychologists to prescribe medications, although the professionals sometimes recommend them in addition to talk therapy.

Psychologists may work in mental health centers, hospitals, schools and even in private practice. Psychologists often teach in universities and do research. Some psychologists work in schools usually funded by the special education department. They deal primarily with special needs children and their families. School psychologists design and administer psychological tests and perform evaluations. In rural areas or small school districts, one psychologist may serve multiple schools.

Psychologists may specialize in several areas. Some of these are: abnormal psychology, comparative psychology, educational psychology, clinical psychology, health psychology and others.

What is a Counselor?

Anyone who gives advice may call himself a counselor. To be a licensed professional counselor, though, you must have a master’s degree in counseling, social work, psychology or a related field and two years of supervised work experience according to Work.Chron.com.”

Although the duties of counselors and psychologists may overlap, counselors generally do not deal with mental illness. They concentrate on helping clients adapt to life experiences and teach them coping strategies. Counselors work in hospitals, mental health facilities, industry and in schools. School counselors are not funded by special education money so they can work with the general student population. They often teach socialization skills to groups of children and work with teachers to overcome student learning and behavioral problems. School counselors in secondary schools help students select college majors or prepare for vocations. Those counselors in higher education act as advisors to help students prepare degree paths and meet educational requirements.

Some counselors deal with people who have addictions and some work in employment or veterans’ centers helping people find work.

What is a Psychiatrist?

The Difference Between Psychologists, Counselors and Psychiatrists is based in the areas they serve and in their education. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in treating mental and emotional illness, They must serve a year-long internship after graduating from medical school and then gain three years of supervised work experience. Often the clients they serve have physical problems caused by their emotional or mental illness. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications, and often use a combination of talk and pharmacological interventions to treat these people. Many psychiatrists don’t offer direct service to clients. Instead, they teach in universities, consult with governmental and private healthcare organizations or conduct research.

Of the three professions, psychiatrists earn the highest salaries, followed by psychologists and then counselors. Careers in counseling require the least education and counselors do not usually work with mental or emotional illness. Still they are all helping professions and the kind of clients they serve is the most pronounced difference between psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors.

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