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What is the Difference Between a Psychotherapist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Mental Health Counselor, Psychoanalyst, and Social Worker?

Finding a therapist that is a good fit is essential to the work you do in therapy and along the way you might find therapists with varying letters after their name. Some therapists offer certain services, in addition to traditional “talk therapy,” such as guided meditation. In this blog, I’d like to offer a brief overview of the different kinds of mental health providers you may encounter. Keep in mind that in the state of New York, for a clinician to practice psychotherapy, they must complete educational (usually at least a Master’s degree) and licensure requirements (typically a certain number of supervised clinical hours and successfully passing an exam). Other states may have different licensure requirements and letters. 


            This is a term that is used by all kinds of mental health professionals and is considered an umbrella term. You will find psychiatrists, social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, and other professionals that will refer to themselves as psychotherapists. This implies that the professional provides psychotherapy or counseling. However, it is not a formal license, and more of an informal way of referring to therapists who evaluate and treat psychological issues. 

Psychiatrist (M.D. / D.O)

            A psychiatrist is a professional who went to medical school and holds a medical degree. They can prescribe psychiatric (also known as psychotropic) medication and typically focus more on medication management. Typically, psychiatrists are not trained in providing talk therapy or counseling services, however, there are many that are. Often times, psychiatrists collaborate with other mental health professionals who provide psychotherapy so that the client receives the best possible care. Thus, it is not uncommon for someone to see both a psychiatrist for medication and a psychotherapist for talk therapy. 

Psychologist (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.)

         Psychologists have a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) in a field within psychology. Different fields include clinical, counseling, cognitive, and forensic psychology, among others. Most often, psychologists who offer counseling or psychotherapy obtained their degree in clinical or counseling psychology. Typically, psychologists complete their graduate training in 4-5 years, after which they must complete an internship, followed by post-doctorate training. Due to their level of training, in addition to psychotherapy, psychologists have the ability of administering psychological testing, such as IQ or personality tests. However, they are not medical doctors, and therefore cannot prescribe medication (with the exception of a few states in the U.S.). Many psychologists are also involved in research, given their extensive research training in graduate school.  

Mental Health Counselor (LMHC / MHC-LP)

         These are psychological counselors who have a Master’s degree in Psychology, Counseling, or a related field. After obtaining a Master’s degree, Mental Health Counselors need additional years (2-4 years) of experience in order to become fully licensed in their field. Professionals with a provisional license, still gaining experience after completing their graduate training, operate with a provisional license (Mental Health Counselor – Limited Permit). This simply means that they must practice under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional, such as a Psychologist or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). Like the professionals mentioned above, they provide psychotherapy and counseling but are not typically trained to administer psychological tests and cannot prescribe medication. They are qualified to evaluate and treat various issues people may be experiencing, such as depression, anxiety, and more.  

Clinical Social Worker (LCSW / LMSW)

         Similar to Mental Health Counselors, social workers begin post-graduate work under the supervision of a licensed clinician. After obtaining enough experience, Licensed Master Social Worker’s (LMSW) can opt to take an exam and become Licensed Clinical Social Worker’s (LCSW). Although there are various paths social workers can take, many choose case management services, hospitals, and private practice. They are qualified to provide psychotherapy and counseling. 

Psychoanalyst (LP)

         Among the other titles, you may come across Licensed Psychoanalysts (LP). After obtaining a graduate degree, many therapists choose to continue extensive training in particular modalities, such as psychoanalysis. These professionals study the work of Freud, among others, and typically work with the unconscious and how things manifest in the present. It is common for those in psychoanalysis to see their analyst around 1-3 times a week. Psychoanalysis can sometimes include laying on a couch, dream analysis, and free association to explore unconscious behaviors and thought patterns.

Are you looking for a psychotherapist? Tired of having to research different therapists with different qualifications?

Lucas Saiter is a Mental Health Counselor in Manhattan. He provides therapy for anxiety, depression, LGBTQ+ individuals, adjustment, as well as relationship and intimacy issues to help individuals take control of their life and make meaningful change. If you are looking for a therapist, contact Lucas Saiter today at 646.506.3832 or click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation.