Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors are examples of helping professionals. Helping professionals treat persons who are mentally ill, who are feeling overwhelmed by the stressors of life, and who fluctuate between declining and thriving mental health, and/or other mental and emotional concerns. If each of these types of helping professionals can do all of these things and more, how are they different? Each profession is distinguished by their educational requirements, mission, and licensing scope of practice.
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors. They accomplished specified undergraduate course work for entrance into medical school, earned a medical degree, completed four years of residency, and acquired licensure and board certification in order to practice. Psychiatrists are currently the only helping professionals legally approved to prescribe psycho-pharmaceuticals. Psychiatrists mainly treat persons with mental illnesses who require prescription medication to manage their symptoms. Psychiatrists along with other helping professionals see clients, who are sometimes referred to as patients.
Psychologists provide mental health care by evaluating, testing, diagnosing and treating persons with mental and behavioral deficits. Eligibility to practice as a psychologist requires a minimum of a graduate level degree in one of the many areas of psychology: forensic, clinical, organizational, counseling, and behavioral. The terminal degrees for psychologists are a Doctor of Philosophy, PhD, or a Doctor of Psychology, which is known as a PsyD. As with all helping professions, each state has specific requirements for licensure. Helping professionals sometimes refer clients to psychologist for testing including but not limited to aptitude, achievement, intelligence, and neuropsychological.
Social workers are advocates and liaisons. Their focus ranges from client education and counseling to connecting the client to public and community resources. Social workers must earn a degree in social work and earn a passing score on licensure exams. Persons completing a Bachelor’s Degree may obtain an Initial License and persons completing a Master’s Degree may obtain a Master License. Clinical Social Workers have completed supervised clinical experience in addition to earning a Master’s Degree in social work. This Clinical License allows social workers to provide individual mental health counseling services to clients.
Counselors practice from a wellness perspective. Counselors make a point to understand their client’s cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic context in order to help their client navigate through mental health and/or life issues so they ultimately live well. Counselors have earned a Master’s Degree in a counseling related field, including but not limited to community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, and vocational rehabilitation. Counselors must obtain a license from their respective state in order to see clients. To learn more about the counselor licensing process, check out our blog post “The I in LPC-I?”