What are the different types of psychotherapist?

The term psychotherapist is not legally protected or regulated in the United States. That means you can legally call yourself a psychotherapist or therapist, put it on a business card, and hang out a shingle. The lesson should be obvious: avoid anyone identifying and advertising as a psychotherapist. Instead, seek mental health services from someone licensed to practice by the particular state in which you reside.

Virtually all states license 6 mental health professions: psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, counselors, psychiatric nurses, and marital/family therapists.

Psychologists possess doctoral degrees in psychology (Ph.D., Psy.D.), receive the most training in psychotherapy, and spend one or two additional years as clinical interns. They alone provide psychological assessment and testing.

Psychiatrists possess doctoral degrees in medicine (M.D., D.O.) and most have completed a formal residency in psychiatry. They prescribe medication and, compared with the other mental health professions, specialize in biological treatments.
Clinical social workers possess a master’s degree in social work or social sciences (M.S.W., M.A.) followed by supervised experience leading to state licensure and eligibility in the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW). Clinical social workers offer psychotherapy and, compared with other mental health professions, specialize in community work.

Counselors possess a master’s degree in counseling or an associated field (M.A., M.S.) and are licensed after several years of experience and completion of a national examination. Counselors offer services in many treatment settings. Tip: Look for one trained in individual, mental health, or clinical counseling, not career counseling (unless you are seeking direction regarding your career).

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses (R.N., B.S.N.) who earned a master’s of science degree in nursing (M.S.N.). Some go on to earn the Nurse Practitioner (NP) designation and then can, in collaboration with a physician, prescribe medication. Some psychiatric nurses also offer psychotherapy.

Marriage and family therapists possess a master’s degree in marital and family therapy (M.F.T., M.A.) and tend to specialize in conducting couple and family work.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.