What is the difference between a therapist and a psychologist?

This is a great question as you navigate the world of therapy and therapist and want to understand the differences in training/education between different practitioners.  I will start by answering the question directly, then I will dovetail into the various levels of education and training that different therapists will have.  Here is a good rule of thumb, clinical and counseling psychologists are all trained to be therapists, but not all therapists are psychologists.  For instance, a clinical or counseling psychologist has had training in therapy that includes formal education, and clinical experience throughout the course of their doctoral program.  These doctoral programs are generally five years in length.  The fifth year generally constitutes the pre-doctoral internship.  Then, the vast majority of states require that a psychologist candidate pursue one extra year of post-doctoral training before the candidate can qualify to be a licensed psychologist.  During this period of education and clinical experience, the psychologist is trained to be a therapist.

Psychology Concepts

So all clinical and counseling psychologists are trained to be therapists, what about practitioners that do not have a doctorate in psychology? In Colorado, we have two types of Master’s degree-level practitioners that are licensed and regulated by the state.  One is called a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), and the other is called a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Both practitioners are trained to be therapists as part of their Master’s degree training.  They both complete coursework in therapy, and they are both required to complete clinical training during their Master’s program.  Then, they both must complete two years of supervised clinical experience post-degree before they are licensed as a LPC or LCSW.  The educational experience between a LPC and a LCSW are different in some aspects, although both specialists receive training in therapy.  The focus on therapy experience seems to be more emphasized in the training of a LPC.  However, many LCSW practitioners have focused on therapy training as part of their program and oftentimes they may have just as much clinical experience providing therapy as a LPC. 

Lastly, the state of Colorado allows for a Registered Psychotherapist. This registration does not require that the applicant have ANY experience or education related to therapy.  I would highly caution the interested consumer from seeking therapy from an individual with this designation.  There is no guarantee that they have any formal training or experience in therapy.  The only exception is the student that is pursuing training as a LPC, LCSW, or psychologist.  They often register as a Registered Psychotherapist while they receive training in therapy.  In my opinion, anyone practicing as a Registered Psychotherapist should be pursuing education in the field of therapy and be regularly supervised by someone who is licensed to perform therapy in Colorado.

That’s a lot of information regarding your decision to seek out therapy from a trained professional.  A common question at this point might be: should I seek treatment from a LPC, LCSW, or a psychologist? Here is my favorite answer to give as a psychologist: it depends.  Not all therapists have equivalent therapy skills regardless of their training.  I have met highly skilled therapy providers within all three professions, and I have met therapy providers from all three professions that I would never refer to for any reason.  So my advice is to check out the therapist’s website first.  See if their philosophy about treatment is congruent with your conceptualization of healing and change.  Then, schedule a consultation via phone.  Have a thoughtful conversation with the provider to see if they are an expert in their field, and have the skills and compassion to become your treatment provider. 

Then, I highly encourage everyone seeking therapy to consider the first two sessions of therapy as a compatibility gauge.  Just because you schedule one or two, or more appointments with a therapist does not mean that you have to “stick it out” with them.  If it’s not a good fit, change therapists earlier instead of later.  At the end of the day, you want to be with a therapist that makes you feel comfortable, understood, validated, and someone that is able to shed light towards the path to change.  You are the consumer, and you should be empowered to choose which provider is the best fit to meet your treatment needs.

If you’re still looking for a concise mental health assessment, give our local experts here at Brain & Body Integration a call today to finally get the answers you deserve. Our offices in both Colorado Springs and Denver can get you on the right path ASAP.

About Ryan Cole