Therapist vs Psychologist

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 22, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Mental Health
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An average person might not know the difference between a therapist and a psychologist. They might think a psychologist is an advanced type of therapist. While this might be the case, on a very simple scale, in the world of psychology, a therapist is very different from a psychologist.

If you’re considering one of these two career options, it’s important to know the differences. So let’s look at what these two careers are and how they are different.

What is a Therapist?

A therapist will likely provide marriage counseling, family counseling, individual counseling, or group counseling. This tends to be a broad designation that may refer to any professional trained to provide rehabilitation and treatment. Often, the term therapist is used to describe psychologists, but it also can include counselors, life coaches, social workers, and many more.

This term isn’t a protected occupational title. However, many therapists will need a license to practice. This may range from occupational therapists to physical therapists to marriage and family therapists.

Therapist vs Psychologist

What is a Psychologist?

As a general psychologist, you will typically provide counseling in many areas. You will be able to work as a clinician or a researcher, and both in some cases. It’s common for psychologists to provide holistic care solutions, as well.

Psychologists cannot prescribe medicine, as a psychiatrist can, except in a few states (with additional training). However, a psychologist can refer a patient to a psychiatrist or physician if prescription medication is necessary.

Therapist vs. Psychologist: The Differences

We can look at several differences between a therapist and a psychologist. Before you decide on your career path, it’s important to understand these differences.

Education

A psychologist will have an advanced degree in psychology. This is commonly a doctoral degree. Therapists, on the other hand, may have a masters degree, an MD, a Ph.D., or a certificate. The degree or certificate may be clinical psychology, family counseling, social work, or psychiatry.

Practice

Psychologists diagnose mental disorders and issues. They will also develop a treatment plan for patients, usually using talk therapy. In addition, this professional will often work with a psychiatrist when prescription medication is necessary. Psychologists may also perform research to contribute clinically and academically.

Therapists, on the other hand, have a larger range of practice types. They are often licensed but vary from marriage counselors to life coaches, social workers, and psychoanalysts. In addition, they can have a variety of specialties, which may change the type of therapy they will use.

Typically, a psychologist will handle more complex mental issues with advanced analysis. Therapists, however, will likely handle more routine emotional and mental issues with a holistic approach.

Licensing Differences for Therapist vs. Psychologist Careers

While the licensing for a therapist or a psychologist may look similar, they come with different requirements. Both will need an advanced degree and pass a national standardized test. Completing supervised work will also be necessary.

Psychologists will need to earn a Doctor of Psychology or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology degree. They will also need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. In addition, about 1,500 to 6,000 supervised clinical hours will need to be completed after graduation, depending on the state.

Therapists only need a Master of Marriage and Family Therapy degree. They will need to pass the MFT National Examination and complete 1,500 to 3,000 supervised hours or two years of supervised work.

It’s also common for both professions to pass a state test. The state requirements will vary from one state to another.

Frequently Asked Questions About Therapists and Psychologists

Are therapists and psychologists the same thing?

No. These are two different professions. However, psychologists may be called therapists. Both will treat mental illness, but the depth of treatment is different. Therapists tend to focus on the social aspects, while psychologists focus on more complex emotional and mental health issues.

Is it possible for a therapist to become a psychologist?

Yes, and this is a very common move for a therapist. As a therapist, you only need a masters degree. However, you can work as a therapist while working towards your doctoral degree to become a psychologist.

What is the demand like for therapists and psychologists?

When you become a psychologist, you will likely work in a more demanding and challenging career than a therapist. The type of cases you will take on may include deep addiction issues, chronic addiction, and other difficult cases.

Therapists still have demanding jobs, but they will focus on less intense cases. For example, they will likely work with patients handling marriage and family issues. In addition, however, therapists may work with patients suffering from depression, addiction issues, and anxiety.

What is the salary for therapists vs. psychologists?

According to Indeed.com, a therapist will earn an average annual salary of about $72K per year. Indeed.com puts the salary for a psychologist at an annual average of about $95K per year. Both professions offer employers and locations paying higher salaries.

In most cases, the average salary for a psychologist is higher than that of a therapist. However, occupational therapists have an average salary of over $91K, according to Salary.com. In addition, speech therapists earn an average salary of about $85K per year.

What is the difference in the cost to see a therapist vs. a psychologist?

From the patient’s point of view, the cost to see a therapist vs. a psychologist is usually pretty different, too. A private practice psychologist will charge more than a therapist in most cases. But, of course, the better the reputation of either professional, the higher the fees will likely be.

Therapists often offer group therapy sessions to help keep costs lower for patients. This is significantly lower in cost compared to individual therapy. In addition, many therapists and psychologists will provide fees on a sliding scale for those without insurance.


Whether you want to become a therapist or a psychologist, you will help others. These are rewarding careers with good salaries. Make sure you choose the one you prefer before starting down either career path.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!