Understanding Different Mental Health Professions
Psychiatrist, Psychologist, LPC, Social Worker … what’s the difference and why should I care?
There are a variety of different degrees that allow individuals to provide mental treatment, and understanding the differences is important when choosing a therapist.
So let’s dig in ….
Psychologist: A Psychologist went to 4-5 years of graduate school and received a PhD or PsyD with the final year being a full time training year focused on counseling and assessment. After graduating, most psychologists are required to complete an additional year of supervised experience before they are licensed to practice independently. From the very beginning of graduate school, course work and clinical training focus on psychological theory, psychotherapy or counseling, and assessment. Course work involves advanced topics in psychological theory and interventions. By the time a psychologist is licensed, they have 6 years of training focused on psychotherapy and assessment.
Psychiatrist: A Psychiatrist went to 4 years of medical school, which generally involves one or two brief rotations during years 3-4 that cover prescribing psychiatric medication. After graduating from medical school, they complete a 4 year residency. Year 1 is a general medical internship, year 2 is usually involves working on an inpatient psychiatric ward prescribing medication, year 3 and 4 involve some individual outpatient treatment that is focused on psychiatric medication and supervising junior residents. So, at the completion of medical school and residency a psychiatrist has about 3 years of mental health specific training focused on prescribing medication and supervising others. The amount of training in psychotherapy or counseling is highly variable. Many psychiatrists I’ve worked with have received training after there residency, but there is no requirement to do that.
Social Worker (LCSW, LISW, etc): Social Workers generally complete a 2-year Masters of Social Work Degree (MSW) that involves training in basic human behavior, policy and advocacy, and cultural sensitivity. The amount of course work on psychological theory is highly variable, but 2-4 courses of training on counseling would be typical. Following graduation, Social workers generally must complete 2 years of supervised work (requirements vary slightly from state to state) before they can be licensed. The name of the license will vary from state to state (Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Independent Social Worker, etc) but the requirements are pretty much the same.
Masters Level Counselor (LPC, MFT, LMFT, etc): Training and experience for a therapist with a masters level degree can be highly variable and depend on the state in which they are licensed. They generally have two years of graduate school which includes 1 year of counseling experience. After graduation, most states requires 1-2 years of experience supervised by a licensed mental health professional . They are not trained to do any type of formal psychological assessment.