Choosing a Psychotherapist

Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist studies and applies psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Clinical psychology includes a wide range of practices, such as research, psychological assessment, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. Central to clinical psychology is the practice of psychotherapy which uses a wide range of techniques in order to enhance subjective well-being, mental health, and life functioning. Unlike other mental health professionals, psychologists are trained to conduct psychological assessment, including psychological testing. Clinical psychologists can work with individuals, couples, children, older adults, families, small groups, and communities.

Specialties of clinical psychologists

Clinical psychologists who focus on treating mental illness specialize in evaluating patients and providing psychotherapy. There are a wide variety of therapeutic techniques and perspectives that guide practitioners, although most fall into the major categories of Psychodynamic, Cognitive-Behavioral , Existential, Humanistic and Systems Therapy (e.g. family or couples therapy).
In addition to therapy, clinical psychologists are also trained to administer and interpret psychological personality tests such as the MMPI and the Rorschach, and various standardized tests of intelligence, memory, and neuropsychological functioning.

Educational requirements for clinical psychologists after college

Clinical psychologists complete postgraduate training, lasting usually five years, in order to earn a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.. Today, in the U.S., about half of licensed psychologists are trained in the. Practitioner-Scholar Model of Clinical Psychology (PsyD), which focuses on clinical practice (similar to professional degrees for medicine and law). The other half are being trained within a Scientist-Practitioner Model of Clinical Psychology (PhD)—a model that emphasizes both research and clinical practice and is usually housed in universities. Outside of coursework, graduates of both programs generally are required to have had 2 to 3 years of supervised clinical experience (including a one-year clinical internship and one year of postdoctoral work), a certain amount of personal psychotherapy, and the completion of a dissertation (PhD programs usually require original quantitative empirical research, whereas the PsyD equivalent of dissertation research often consists of literature review and qualitative research, theoretical scholarship, program evaluation or development, critical literature analysis, or clinical application and analysis).


Psychiatrists are physicians who hold either an M.D. or D.O. degree. They specialize and are certified in treating mental illness using the biomedical approach to mental disorders including the use of psychotropic medications.
Psychiatrists may also go through significant training in psychotherapy. However, the majority of psychiatrists do not practice psychotherapy. Psychologists and clinical psychologists specialize in the research and clinical application of psychotherapy.

Specialties of psychiatrists

Psychiatrists may conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests and EEGs, and may order brain imaging studies such as CT, MRI and PET scans. Psychiatrists can evaluate patients for any medical problems or diseases that may be the cause of the mental illness.

Educational requirements for psychiatrists after college

One must attend 4 years of medical school in order to earn the M.D. or D.O.. Following this, the individual must complete a four-year residency in Psychiatry. The total amount of time required to qualify in the field of Psychiatry in the United States is typically 4 to 5 years after obtaining the MD or DO (8 to 9 years minimum).

Counseling psychologist or psychotherapist

Counseling generally involves helping people with what might be considered "normal" or "moderate" psychological problems, such as the feelings of anxiety or sadness resulting from major life changes or events. As such, counseling psychologists often help people adjust to or cope with their environment or major events, although many also work with more serious problems as well.
One may practice as a counseling psychologist with a PhD or EdD, and as a counseling psychotherapist with a Masters Degree, completed in two-three years. Counselors tend to conduct more vocational assessment and less projective or objective assessment, and they are more likely to work in public service or university clinics (rather than hospitals or private practice).

Certified Mental Health Professional

The Certified Mental Health Professional (CMHP) certification is designed to measure an individual’s competency in performing the following job tasks. The job tasks are not presented in any particular order of importance.
  1. Maintain confidentiality of records relating to clients’ treatment.
  2. Encourage clients to express their feelings, discuss what is happening in their lives, and help them to develop insight into themselves and their relationships.
  3. Guide clients in the development of skills and strategies for dealing with their problems.
  4. Prepare and maintain all required treatment records and reports.
  5. Counsel clients and patients, individually and in group sessions, to assist in overcoming dependencies, adjusting to life, and making changes.
  6. Collect information about clients through interviews, observations, and tests.
  7. Act as the client’s advocate in order to coordinate required services or to resolve emergency problems in crisis situations.
  8. Develop and implement treatment plans based on clinical experience and knowledge.
  9. Collaborate with other staff members to perform clinical assessments and develop treatment plans.
  10. Evaluate client’s physical or mental condition based on review of client information.
Social worker
Social workers in the area of mental health may assess, treat, develop treatment plans, provide case management and/or rights advocacy to individuals with mental health problems. They can work independently or within clinics/service agencies, usually in collaboration with other health care professionals.
They are often referred to as clinical social workers. Each state specifies the responsibilities and limitations of this profession. State licensing boards and national certification boards require clinical social workers to have a masters degree (MSW) which is usually completed in 2-3 years. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) are licensed to practice independently Some social workers hold a doctorate (DSW) .

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