What are the differences between a Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist, Social Worker, and Mental Health Counselor

Written by an iTherapy Provider

What are the differences between a Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist, Social Worker, and Mental Health Counselor

Clinical Psychologist:

A Clinical Psychologist is a Doctor who holds a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.). The basic difference between the 2 degrees of Psy.D. and Ph.D. is the rigor and higher standards of the PhD Dissertation which often takes on average 8-years to complete. The Degree of Ph.D. is the highest and most prestigious degree bestowed by Academia.

A Clinical Psychologist has 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. * Additional course work, education, and training in brain-behavior-neurology-neuroscience, and additional Post-Doctoral Training of 2 to 3 additional years is common for a Clinical Psychologist who is also a Clinical NeuroPsychologist.

A Clinical Psychologist does not prescribe medication in the State of Florida. Instead, a Clinical Psychologist provides psychotherapy through their in-depth knowledge of psychological theory, a plethora of scientific driven psychotherapy modalities, research and diagnostic testing. Clinical Psychologists also specialize in psychological testing and are the only group of clinicians trained to do so. Psychological testing requires years of training that involves not only how to administer the psychological tests, but also how to score and integrate the psychological test information with clinical interviews, background information, knowledge of personality theory, human development and research.

The title “Licensed Clinical 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 licensed clinical psychologist may be referred to as a “therapist,” “psychotherapist” “counselor,” or “clinician.” However, these are more general terms often used by the lay person and that can be used by other mental health professionals.


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. However, their role has 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.

Most psychiatrists are now currently specializing only in psychopharmacology for the psychiatric disorder symptoms presentation. And If so determined, the psychiatrist will prescribe the medications and then follows the patient for medication management and assessing the symptomatology. Medication management includes initially following the patient closely until they are stabilized with the proper type of psychiatric medication and medication dosage (usually once every 1-2 weeks until stabilization occurs) and then after that the psychiatrist will usually see the patient once every 1-3 months for medication follow-up and maintenance.

Social Worker:

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) holds a Masters degrees. LCSWs are not doctors. Their training consists of 2-years of graduate school and 1-year 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. They frequently partner with Clinical Psychologists who provide psychotherapy and clinical psychological testing.

Mental Health Counselor:

Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) holds a Masters degree in counseling. LMHCs are not doctors. They have completed 2-years of graduate training and 1-year of work experience under supervision. A LMHC provides counseling to individuals, families and groups. They, too, will partner with psychiatrist or clinical psychologist for treatment protocol.

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In Conclusion

The most significant differences between mental health professionals are specialties, years of education and training, 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, some mental health professionals will occasionally work together using a variety of treatment options such as concurrent medication and therapeutic strategies.

August 23, 2017 / Online Counseling

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