What Kind Of “Therapist” Do You Need?

What is the difference between counseling and therapy? Are you looking for a counselor or a therapist? These are very common questions related to the topic and will be answered in this article.

What are the differences between a psychotherapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, social worker or therapist?

People often wonder about how these terms are different. The professional that is the most unique from the list above is “psychiatrist”. A psychiatrist is someone can prescribe medications and in most cases went through traditional medical school and holds an “M.D.”, like your primary care physician. However, their speciality is psychiatric medication.

The other names in the question all do the same things for the most part. Typically, whether someone is a psychologist or a counselor, they have learned or can learn many of the same therapy theories and use them. Many of these professionals can work in the same environments such as an outpatient therapy practice, hospital, mental health organization or a school. There are some differences in education. Most helping professionals go to graduate school for a minimum of two years after a bachelor’s degree. Some receive their PhD and acquire the title of “Dr.”. There are some differences in how each professional thinks about individual or community challenges but the overlap in the field is much greater than the differences.

Receiving “Counseling” vs “Therapy”

Counseling and therapy are both forms of “treatment” for mental health challenges. However, they both share the common goal of assisting people in identifying their challenges and working with them. Some professionals refer to counseling as a less intensive and more guided experience than “therapy” or “psychotherapy”. Some professionals use the terms therapy or psychotherapy to refer to to a more intensive process that might involve a deeper exploration of the self, life experiences and possible mental health challenges. Other professionals use the terms interchangeably. So, it some ways it depends on who you are visiting with and their general beliefs or uses of these terms.

Psychologist vs Therapist vs Psychiatrist

The first question and answer on this page briefly addresses this question. It is most important to remember that a psychiatrist is a traditional medical professional or doctor (M.D.) who can prescribe psychiatric medications. There are also psychiatric APRNs (Advanced Practice Registered Nurses) who go through a lot of training and can provide psychiatric medication. These are increasingly popular, especially in the state of Kansas. Because psychiatrists are so rare, psychiatric APRNs provide a much needed service in many areas.

Psychologists are professionals trained in psychological assessment and psychotherapy. Compared to other professions such as social work or counseling, psychologists are usually trained heavily in administering and interpreting psychological assessment tools. These can include IQ assessments, social-emotional assessment, assessments for learning disabilities and more!

Again, the term “therapist” can be used interchangeably with psychologists, counselors or social workers. A psychologist can be referred to as a therapist. However, a psychiatrist (medication prescriber) is not usually referred to as a therapist.

What is a Social Worker then?

Social work encompasses a wide variety of occupations and “work”. There are many bachelor level social workers who do very important work in many environments. Master level social workers typically receive their advanced degree so they can do therapy with individuals, couples, families etc. More so than psychology or counseling fields, social work generally has more of a “boots on the ground” or “in the community” helping feel to it.


Learn About Your Options – Different Types of Therapists

Understand What Each Type of Therapy is and How It Can Help

Regardless of which mental health professional you choose, it is important to understand the different types of therapies that are available so that you can make an informed decision about your care. There are many different types of therapies, each with its own approach and benefits. These are just some of the types of therapy available.

However, it is important to note that for many practitioners, these therapy modalities are not “administered” or “delivered” to someone seeking therapy.

Therapy is typically a much more complex interaction. If therapy was as simple as marching through a CBT or EMDR manual then therapy would be pretty easy for both the client and therapist. However, any therapist worth their salt appreciates and understands the complexity of the therapeutic interaction. Therefore, many therapists use pieces of many therapeutic approaches in order to help the therapy process move forward. In a rough analogy, think of a chef trying to find a fitting meal for a customer. The chef in many instances will use different techniques within the same dish, different seasonings etc.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing patterns of thought, emotions, and behavior that often contribute to psychological distress.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT was developed by the famous Dr. Marsha Linehan. This therapy heavily focuses on the dynamic of the therapeutic relationship. It teaches skills for managing emotions and handling stressful situations in order to foster healthier relationships, self-esteem, and overall well-being.


Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a therapy that was developed to address traumatic experiences. EMDR uses well researched trauma science and principles to help reprocess traumatic experiences to decrease psychological pain and symptoms related to the event(s).


Solution Focused Therapy

Solution Focused Therapy is a useful modality of therapy that assists people in using tools they already have available to them to cope with adversity. It focuses almost explicitly on the future and is very “forward moving”.


Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is one of the most popular modalities of therapy today because it applies in some way to almost every therapy type. Motivational interviewing is focused on the dynamic of change and how to help clients catalyze the changes they want to work toward in their lives.


Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

Internal Family Systems therapy or IFS is an increasingly popular therapy that helps people identify the “parts” of themselves and balance these parts. Notably, in everyday talk, we often say things like “part of me thinks…” . IFS is built on this idea that we have parts of ourselves that have different roles and the goal is to help these parts become balanced in order to reduce distress.


Mindfulness-Based Therapies

There are an increasing number of mindfulness based therapies. Some therapies such as CBT have a “mindfulness based” form. Mindfulness-based therapies encourage individuals to become aware and nonjudgmental of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations in order to manage stress better.


Couples Therapy

There are many modalities of couples therapies. Each theory or modality views the couple or family with a different philosophy that drives its interventions.


Trauma Therapy

Trauma informed therapies such as EMDR, Trauma-Focused CBT or Internal Family System therapies all aim to help people process their traumatic experiences in some form.


Play Therapy

Play therapy is typically used with young children but can be used at any age. It acknowledges that children primarily communicate and represent their thoughts and feelings through playing, not talking as most adults do.


Family Therapy

There are many different kinds of family therapies. Most family therapies view the family cohort as some kind of whole instead of “the individual that causes the problem”. In other words, the family is a complex system.


Anxiety Therapy

Nearly any modality of therapy can help an individual with anxiety. Many times, cognitive-behavioral therapy or components of CBT are helpful in someone challenging their anxiety.


Autism Therapy

There are specific therapies such as ABA therapy that are heavily recommended for Autism. However, other therapies can be very beneficial to help the person understand and cope with their challenges.


Depression Therapy

Therapies utilized with people who struggle with depression typically help address thought patterns that propagate the depression as well as behaviors that are unhelpful.


PTSD Therapy

Like trauma informed therapies, therapy for PTSD aims to process the traumatic event(s) that people experience that gave rise to the PTSD symptoms.


ADHD Therapy

Therapy for people with ADHD often involves helping people understand ADHD related challenges as well as skills to help cope with these challenges.


Substance Misuse Therapy

There are many different forms of therapies that might help someone with substance misuse issues. These might include therapies that help someone address underlying factors contributing to their substance misuse and/or skills to help build and maintain sobriety.


Grief Therapy

Grief is complex and as such different therapies might help someone work with elements of their grief and receive helpful support from a therapist.

Identifying a Therapist who is a Good Fit for You

Unfortunately, having a good therapeutic relationship with a therapist is not a guarantee and is impossible to predict. Although therapists are trained to facilitate this relationship, clients can participate by assessing themselves whether this is a good fit for them. Below are some questions that can help guide your decision:


How do I feel when I am in the room (or on screen for telehealth), with the therapist?

  • It is important to feel a sense of comfort and trust with the therapist. This does not mean you are 100% comfortable or tell the therapist everything in your first couple meetings. It just means that you get a sense of comfort and good “alliance” with the therapist.

Does this therapist have training or specialize in what I might be struggling with?

  • It is okay to ask your therapist this and they should be okay with answering you! Some therapists might volunteer this information up front.

How much experience does the therapist possess?

  • Experience as a therapist can be important. However, just because someone has only been a therapist for a couple years does not mean they will not be helpful. Many newer therapists work very hard for their clients.

Knowing When to Move On From A Therapist

As you start therapy with a new therapist, if any of those questions above are glaringly off with your therapist, you might start to think about finding another who is a better fit for you. However, we usually recommend giving you and the therapist at least 2-3 sessions before moving on. Sometimes there is a great therapeutic relationship there that just needs some time to develop. On the other hand, if the therapist makes you feel judged negatively or clearly does not fit, it is more than okay to move on!

Oftentimes, it does take someone trying a couple therapists before finding the right fit. No matter how hard you or the therapist tries for form a good therapeutic relationship, sometimes it just does not click.