Therapists vs. Psychologists (Responsibilities and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 1, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Therapists and psychologists are mental health professionals who help individuals, families, and couples improve their mental well-being. While therapists and psychologists share similarities in what they do, there are also differences between the two professions. Understanding the similarities and differences between a therapist and psychologist can help you better decide which career path you want to follow. In this article, we explore what a therapists versus psychologists are, their responsibilities, how to become a therapist or psychologist, and the skills required for each profession.

Related: How to Become a Psychologist in Canada

What is a therapist?

Therapist is a broad term for a mental health professional trained to provide treatment and rehabilitation. While this term applies to psychologists, it often includes other professionals, such as social workers, counselors, child therapists, and life coaches. As a therapist, you might work in private offices, hospitals, schools, government agencies, and doctor clinics. A therapist usually has an area that they specialize in and works closely with the patients and other clinical specialists to provide treatment and advice in those specialized areas.

Therapists often use several strategies with their patients, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, based on the specific issues that the patient wants to target and the treatment plan. Besides providing mental health support for patients, therapists also offer emotional support in various situations, such as a divorce or trauma. They typically also focus on helping patients develop better cognitive and emotional skills and methods to cope with various life challenges. For example, patients might consult a therapist to develop coping strategies and gain advice for a change in career, marriage, or family.

Related: Top 15 Careers in Therapy (With Duties, Salaries, and FAQs)

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is a health care professional who focuses on studying and treating mental health conditions and behaviours. As a psychologist, you might work in an office setting, a private clinic, hospital, doctor's office, school, or government agency. Psychologists, like therapists, often have an area of specialization and focus on helping patients that align with their area of expertise. A psychologist might also specialize in areas that relate to how people think. For example, a consumer psychologist focuses on understanding how consumers think or decide how to make purchases to help businesses develop better marketing and business strategies.

A psychologist can work as a clinician to diagnose and treat patients or work as a researcher to further the study and understanding of psychological conditions. For example, a psychologist might focus on understanding human cognitive functions, such as learning, memory, thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, attention, and reasoning. As a psychologist, you might often collaborate with other therapists or psychiatrists to create holistic treatment plans that focus on providing emotional, physical, and medical support for the specific condition that the patient has.

Related: How to Become a Psychological Therapist (With Steps)

Differences between therapists vs. psychologists

While therapists and psychologists both work in health care and can have similar responsibilities, their day-to-day activities are different. They also follow different education paths to become a professional in their field. Below explains the responsibilities and education requirements for being a therapist and a psychologist:

Responsibilities of a therapist

Here are some responsibilities that a therapist has in their daily job:

  • Create a safe and judgment-free environment: It takes a lot of courage for a patient to seek professional help and openly discuss their mental health concerns with another person. The therapist ensures the patient feels safe and for providing non-biased, judgment-free treatment according to the conditions that the patient has.

  • Refer patients to other specialists: Sometimes, patients require more than therapy to treat their mental health condition, such as medication. A therapist might assess the patient and refer them to a psychiatrist or another professional as an addition to their treatment plan.

  • Provide treatment: Therapists meet with patients regularly and provide a guided approach to help patients recognize, understand, and cope with their mental health challenges. These treatments may include talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and attachment-based therapy.

  • Assess patients: Therapists continuously assess patients to determine whether they're achieving their mental health goals or need additional help from themselves or other professionals.

  • Conduct community programs: Sometimes, therapists organize community outreach programs and activities in various areas to encourage individuals to seek help and provide mental health resources to those in need of it.

  • Be a client advocate: Therapists might coordinate with other services, testify in court, or resolve emergency crisis situations on behalf of their patients.

Responsibilities of a psychologist

Here are some responsibilities that a psychologist has in their day-to-day work:

  • Assess patient behaviour: Psychologists interview, test, and observe their patients to understand their condition and the type of help they need.

  • Develop treatment plans: Treatment plans can include many types of actions, such as interpersonal therapy, applied behaviour analysis, psychotherapy, or brain stimulation therapy.

  • Conduct research: Psychologists often research topics related to how humans feel, think, learn, and act to explain human behaviour and develop treatments for problems like cognitive disabilities or memory loss.

  • Diagnose patients: Psychologists provide patient diagnoses based on the assessments and observations they gather to create a treatment plan tailored to the needs of each individual patient.

  • Collaborate with other specialists: A psychologist might work with case managers, therapists, and psychiatrists to coordinate patient care.

  • Provide referrals: If the patient requires additional care beyond what the psychologist can provide, they might offer referrals for additional care, evaluation, and treatment.

Related: Jobs You Can Do With a Psychology Degree

Education requirements for a therapist

A licensed therapist typically requires a bachelor's and master's degree in psychology or a related field to practice in a clinic. Some therapists also pursue doctoral degrees. The type of specialization you pursue in school largely depends on the therapist you want to be. For example, a prospective counsellor in a school or work environment typically requires a master's degree in counselling or a related field and a career or school counselling specialization. If you want to specialize as a school counsellor, you might also need some teaching experience before you can get your license.

Once you have your bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree, you get certified with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA). Individuals who want to legally provide counselling and therapy services in Canada require this certification to start clinical practice. Membership with the CCPA costs $260 each year, and individuals renew their licenses every three years. The CCPA also provides a supervisor certification program for individuals who supervise other clinical counsellors and therapists.

Related: How to Become a Therapist (Step-By-Step Guide and Job List)

Education requirements for a psychologist

A psychologist requires a bachelor's and a master's degree in psychology, science, or another related field. Some psychologists also choose to pursue a doctoral degree. In the master's program, the student takes courses in their specialization and completes a major project to present in front of a committee. If you choose to pursue a doctoral degree, you can gain experience in clinical or experimental psychology and take courses that provide the knowledge and research skills in these topics. It generally requires two to three years to receive a master's degree and another four to six years to get a doctoral degree. Many graduate schools require students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

If you want to become a clinical psychologist, you can register to become certified and licensed with the Canadian Psychology Association (CPA). The requirements for registration, certification, and licensing with the CPA vary depending on the province you live in, but usually involve having a graduate degree, having supervised experience, and passing written and oral exams on practice and ethical issues.

Related: How to Become a Clinical Psychologist (With FAQs and Salary)

Similarities between therapists vs. psychologists

Besides an overlap in some responsibilities between a therapist and a psychologist, such as assessing patients, collaborating with other specialists, and administrative tasks, therapists and psychologists also require similar skills. Here are some skills you might need in both professions to be successful:

  • Communication skills help you effectively communicate with, listen to, and understand your patients

  • Empathy allows you to connect with your patients to show that you care and want to help

  • Active listening is a part of communication and helps with interviewing, assessments, and treatments

  • Ethics help you uphold moral standards in a professional environment that requires sensitivity

  • Research skills help you learn more about mental health conditions and treatments

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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