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Psychologist, Social worker, Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

May 18, 2022 | Therapy Expectations

In the field of mental health, there are a number of specialties that focus on a specific aspect of an individual’s overall health. The terms “psychologist”, “social worker”, and “psychiatrist” are labels that are used to differentiate between the specialties of each field.

Many people don’t know the differences between psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists. They ask, “are you a psychologist?” and typically mean, “Do you help people with emotional and psychological health?” Whether you are speaking with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker, the answer to that is yes. However, there’s more to these labels than just a title. Each title comes with different education, training, and qualifications.

A psychologist is someone who completes either a Masters or Ph.D. in psychology. They often treat the specific mental health issue using a variety of different methods (Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectic Behavioral, etc.). A social worker is someone who has a Masters or Ph.D. in clinical social work. Social workers are also able to utilize various treatment methods, as well, to provide a more holistic approach that focuses on helping the patient in ways not exclusive to therapy. A psychiatrist is someone who completes medical school and residency training in psychiatry. They focus more on the physical and biological aspects of mental health and often will use medication as the primary treatment method for mental health issues.

While these are the basic qualifications, a therapist will also need to be licensed in their field before they can begin their practice.

To put this in more basic terms, a psychologist is who you think of when you think of talk therapy, and psychiatrists more closely resemble medical doctors, but they specialize in mental health. Social worker is a much broader term, but it typically refers to someone who works to protect children and the elderly while also helping struggling families who maybe don’t have access to talk therapy or other types of assistance.

How Knowing The Difference Impacts Treatment

This may seem like a bunch of irrelevant information to you as the patient, but it’s vital to know the difference when seeking out treatment. Knowing the difference will help you ask the correct questions when interviewing a potential therapist, such as what their experience is and what additional training they have.

For example, if you struggle with a personality disorder, you will want to find a therapist specializing in that issue. You may also want to inquire about what population or age range they work with. These two basic questions will help you get a better feel for your potential therapist and how they work.

This is a huge part of why Start My Wellness therapists focus so much on continuing education. We want to continue advancing our skills so that you find the work of therapy beneficial and want to return for future sessions. As the owner, I often tell staff, “The best way to have a stable group of patients to work with is to actively continue learning; when patients feel they get something valuable from each session, they are likely to return and actually complete their treatment.”

Try to keep this in mind when interviewing a potential therapist. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Do they have experience helping with the kind of challenges I face?
  2. Do they seem like someone I can talk with?
  3. Are they curious about my experience?

A good therapy session should make you feel like you learned something new about yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about what we specialize in and how we can help you, call us at 248-514-4955 or reach out to us on our contact page.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

Anton Babushkin, PhD Therapist CEO Wellness Psychotherapy

Author: Anton Babushkin, CEO PHD

View Therapist’s Bio / Schedule Appointment


*This blog was created with the help of Kaitlyn Pfiester

Looking for a Therapist? Start My Wellness has highly experienced Licensed Therapists that are currently accepting new patients.


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