Psychologist vs therapist: Which one do you need?

Apr 30, 20245 min
difference between psychologist and therapist

Due to increasing awareness around mental health, many of us are looking to seek help from a mental health professional. However, with social media influencers becoming ‘therapists of the town’, how do you know which professional is right for you? Additionally, how do you differentiate between the types of professionals?

If you are new to the world of therapy or have just started looking out for help, the word psychologist vs therapist comes up in every conversation! The terms are often used interchangeably, often leading to confusion about the role and responsibilities of the professional. 

It is common to wonder how these two differ from each other and whom to reach out to for help. While all mental health professionals strive to improve lives, everyone has a different way of doing so. 

We first dive into the differences between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist. Psychologist vs clinical psychologist may appear to be two peas in a pod and yet, differ in many ways.

Who is a Psychologist?

In India, psychologists hold at least a postgraduate degree in Psychology (MA/MSc). A psychologist can have a Masters in Counselling Psychology or a Masters in Clinical Psychology. They often undergo intensive training in types of therapeutic interventions, research, and assessment. Psychologists in India also are titled counsellors since they can provide talk therapy.

This means that your psychologist is likely to read about various therapy techniques to help reduce your emotional or psychological distress. Additionally, their work is constantly informed by ever growing research. It is important to note that a degree helps an individual learn the theoretical aspects of therapy or how to help clients. When you are looking for a psychologist to work with, ask them about their training and experience to get a better idea.

Psychologists use their knowledge in a practical capacity to help their patients or clients. They often use research backed up data to help individuals solve their mental health concerns. For example, a school psychologist may research the behaviours of students and teachers to promote collaborative learning. This data can differ from school to school and the psychologist strives to provide unique solutions for each school.

Additionally, a school psychologist may also opt for a counselling role and help individuals with their concerns. For instance, a student experiencing bullying at school may approach a school counsellor/psychologist to navigate the environment, explore their emotions, and talk about their experiences.

Who is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists in India hold an additional degree in Psychology, after completion of their post-graduation. At the moment in India, anyone with an MPhil in Clinical Psychology can register with the Rehabilitation Council Of India to work as a clinical psychologist. 

A clinical psychologist is trained in the assessment and diagnosis of clinical concerns, like anxiety, depression, eating disorder, and others. They often aim to reduce the stress that arises from your emotional concerns and offer professional support. They often work closely with psychiatrists who prescribe medications.

*The Rehabilitation Council Of India (RCI) is a central regulatory body that provides mental health professionals licence to work as clinical psychologists. Additionally, it regulates their professional practice.

Who is a Therapist?

The word therapist is often used as an umbrella term, which can include speech therapists, occupational therapists, yoga therapists, and others. They are individuals who provide professional solutions to problems associated with either mental or physical health. 

When we talk about someone specifically involved in the management of mental health related concerns such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and stress, we refer to them as psychotherapists. In India, both psychologists and clinical psychologists can provide psychotherapy.

A psychotherapist uses psychological methods or tools that are used to enhance a person’s behaviour or help them overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy for mental health concerns is a long-term process. It helps you explore your patterns of thoughts and feelings that may be affecting your functioning. 

Therapists can have varying educational backgrounds, training, and certifications. Additionally, psychotherapists can be trained to manage specific concerns or are trained in specific modalities. For example, a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist is someone who has been certified to provide CBT to clients. A CBT therapist helps you recognize how certain connections between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are affecting your mental health.

Common Areas of Psychotherapy

Couples therapy

Marriage and family therapy

A marriage and family therapist specialises in addressing concerns for couples and families. Some of the common issues include communication difficulties, conflict resolution, separation, and others.

ABA therapy

An ABA therapist uses the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis to help children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental concerns to improve behaviours that help them survive in their social settings, such as schools, family get-togethers, etc.

Addiction and Substance Abuse therapy

An addiction therapist helps individuals who become addicted to drugs, the internet, alcohol, or even activities like gaming. They talk to the client about their emotional and behavioural patterns, and help them learn alternative coping mechanisms.

Industrial and Organisational counselling

We now recognize the importance of catering to employee well-being and industrial psychologists play a lead role in this. Not only do they devise programs that assist employees with their psychological concerns but also improve the quality of the work environment. In many companies, they are involved in the decision-making process for the clients. They can also provide one-to-one therapy to clients through an Employee-Assistance Program (EAP).

When should I seek a Psychologist?

  • You are concerned about shifts in sleep, appetite or overall mood, lethargy or shifts in attention 
  • You need specialised assessments for your mood and behaviour.
  • Your emotional concerns are interfering with work and other areas of your life.
  • You are looking to work with someone who specialises in working with addiction.

Takeaway

One of the biggest similarities between a therapist and psychologist is that they are not just ‘listeners’ or do not just have a ‘passion to help people’. It is important to recognize that there can be people posing on the internet as mental health professionals, without a professional degree. It is also important to note that there is always going to be an overlap in the work of mental health professionals, since their overarching aim is to aid your mental health. 

Learning about the difference between psychologist vs therapist can help you reach the right decision for your mental and emotional needs. Due to the lack of regulation in the mental health sector in India, the responsibility of verifying credentials often falls on clients like you. However, this process becomes easier with Mave Health, which helps you connect to the psychologist vs therapist of your choice. This helps to simplify your search and gives you more time to work on your concerns with the professional. 

References:

  1. Tang, W., & Kreindler, D. (2017). Supporting homework compliance in cognitive behavioural therapy: essential features of mobile apps. JMIR mental health, 4(2), e5283.
  2. Wahass, S. H. (2005). The role of psychologists in health care delivery. Journal of Family and Community Medicine, 12(2), 63-70.
Author's Profile picture
Mave
Clinical Psychologist