The first question I get from people often is in regards to what the differences of counseling, psychiatry, and psychologists are. I hope to break it down effectively below:

  • Most all of us do therapy (Psychologists, Social Workers, Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists and sometimes Psychiatrists).

So what’s the difference? 

Professional Counselors: LPC’s go to school and their education focuses exclusively on how to be a therapist in private practice. Programs vary in terms of their focus but CACREP, a board overseeing a number of counseling programs certification programs, mandates a certain amount of hours, class focus, experience, and audits the programs for quality. Typically it takes counselors 2-3 years to get through their masters level classes and another 2-4 years to finish their clinical hours under strict supervision (can be as quick as 1.5 years in Texas) to get fully licensed. Counselors have a wide range of specializations, can become teachers with a PhD, and can also perform testing and research like psychologists. That said, most often they work in private practice and sometimes they are in hospitals, agencies, and schools.

Psychologists: Psychologists go to school for 5-6 years, graduate with a PhD, have one year of post doctoral work they must complete, and have clinical rotations while in their schooling. Regulation varies by state but typically after a year under a supervisor, they are fully licensed. Psychologists can work in roles similar to counselors in schools, doing testing, teaching, research, or doing therapy. In psychology programs, they require students to pick a track that is either clinical (client focused) or research focused. Many psychologists focus on research instead of having a clinical focus.

Social Workers: Social work programs tend to be 2 years in length and allow students to focus on agency work and case management, policy work, and clinical work. They spend several years underneath the supervision before they become fully licensed. Social workers are commonly found in agencies, schools, hospitals, and after they have some clinical experience they often migrate to private practice.

Marriage and Family Therapists: MFT’s have similar schooling to LPC’s but they focus on marriage and family therapy. Their programs are a similar length to LPC programs but they have a focus on their specialization. MFT’s tend to take 2-3 years after completing school to become fully licensed.

Psychiatrists: These are the people who provide medications and go to medical school. The overall time investment is easily 7+ years or more to be fully licensed. They may also do therapy in their practice. Psychiatrists tend to be in the most demand due to their ability to prescribe and the fact they are so few in number. In Austin, we have fewer than 200 for a population of almost 2 million.