A psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor (M.D.) who has graduated from a medical school. A psychiatrist’s training focuses on general medicine while in medical school. They will then go on to 3-4 years of residency where they will specialize in psychiatry. While for many years in the past, the psychiatrist normally prescribed medications and also delivered psychotherapy, their roles have changed today. For the most part, psychiatrists now do psychiatric evaluations for the purpose of determining if an individual would be appropriate for treatment with medications. If so determined, the psychiatrist prescribes the medications and then follows the patient for medication management. Medication management includes initially following the patient closely until they are stabilized with the proper dosage ( usually once every 1-2 weeks until stabilization occurs) and then usually once every 1-3 months for maintenance.
A psychologist is a clinician who holds a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.). These clinicians have spent at least 5-6 years of graduate work strictly studying psychology, then moving on to complete 1-2 years of internship followed by 1-2 years of supervised clinical work experience before qualifying for the right to sit for the licensing examination. A psychologist does not prescribe medication. Instead, they provide psychotherapy through their in-depth knowledge of psychological theory, therapy, research and diagnostic testing. Psychologists also specialize in psychological testing and are the only group of clinicians trained to do so. Psychological testing require years of training that involves not only how to give the tests, but also how to score and integrate the test information with clinical interviews, background information, knowledge of personality theory, human development and research.
The title “psychologist” can only be used by someone who has completed the above training and has then passed both national and state licensing examinations. Informally, a psychologist may be referred to as a “therapist,” “counselor,” or “clinician.” However, these are more general terms that can be used by other mental health professionals who are not formally trained and licensed psychololgists.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW’s) hold Masters degrees. Their training consists of typically 2 years of graduate school and 1-2 years of internship. LCSW’s assess, diagnose, intervene and treat individuals, families and groups with psychosocial problems. They will frequently partner with a psychiatrist if they feel medication should be part of the treatment protocol.
Mental Health Counselors
Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC’s) hold Masters degrees in counseling. They have completed 2 years of graduate training and 1-2 years of work experience under supervision. LMHC’s provide counseling to individuals, families and groups. They, too, will partner with a psychiatrist if they feel medications might be included in the treatment protocol.
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In conclusion, the most significant differences between mental health professionals are specialties, education and experience. Most qualified mental health professionals will refer a patient to another professional if the specific type of treatment needed is outside their scope of practice. Additionally, many mental health professionals will often work together using a variety of treatment options such as concurrent medication and therapeutic techniques.