5 Different Types of Psychologists, Psychotherapists, and Counselors

5 Different Types of Psychologists, Psychotherapists, and Counselors

Me, practicing being a counselor :-)

This list of different types of psychologists, therapists, and counselors will help you choose a career in counseling. Included here are clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and pastoral counselors.

I’m in my first year of my MSW (Master’s of Social Work) at UBC (the University of British Columbia). My goal is to counsel people coping with chronic illness.

Are you doing undergraduate work in psychology, or graduate studies in social work? If you have questions about getting into university or college, ask me below. I’ve gotten into university several times, and haven’t gotten kicked out once! Yet.

These job descriptions can help you start a counseling career, or help you decide not to go into counseling at all…

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists specialize in severe psychological disorders such as depression, learning disabilities, eating disorders, and anxiety. Clinical psychologists often work as part of a team to offer mental health help. Depending on where they work, a psychologist’s team may include social workers, doctors, and other health professionals.

Clinical psychologists also offer group, marital, or individual therapies are both offered by most psychologists (in fact, most mental health counselors will work with both groups and individuals).

Counseling Psychologists

Counseling psychologists tend to focus on problems in daily life, rather than severe psychological disorders. These mental health counselors often work in the community, in hospitals, schools, businesses, clinics, and private settings. Counseling psychologists help with relationships, work, grief, and major life stresses.

Counseling psychologists specialize in a number of disciplines, such as cognitive-behavioral, Freudian, Jungian, existential-humanistic – or a combination of two or three different psychological disciplines.

When I’m a counselor (which is different than a psychologist), I hope to include my dog in my counseling sessions.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have both a medical degree and graduate degrees (Master’s and PhD) in psychology. Typically, psychiatrists treat mental and emotional disorders with a combination of prescription medication and counseling therapy. These mental health doctors help with severe psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder — or with less severe phobias and learning disorders. This type of counseling career requires more education and training than a career that focuses on psychology or counseling alone.

Psychiatry often involves prescribing medications such as antidepressants, while psychology focuses on behavior change without medication (though both counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists work with clients who take medication).

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers often work in hospice, hospital, or out-patient care facilities. These mental health counselors focus on the social context of their client’s problems. For instance, clinical social workers often work with families to provide psychological help; often the entire family is involved in therapy.

This counseling career often involves working with elder or child abuse, adjustment to chronic or debilitating illness, substance abuse, cultural concerns, and guardianship issues. Clinical social workers may have psychology degrees, but typically have a Master’s in Social Work (MSW).

A social worker I know uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy to help clients get unstuck.

Pastoral Counselors

Pastoral counselors are trained in both psychology and theology to help people with mental health struggles or psychological disorders. Often they combine spiritual insights or guidance with problem-solving tactics to provide psychological help. Their fees may be lower than other mental health counselors as they often work in non-profit settings. Some pastoral counselors offer free counseling as part of their church or religious organization’s service to the community.

These counseling careers aren’t “absolute.” That is, the roles, responsibilities, and activities of different types of counselors can change. For instance, pastoral counselors don’t always include theology or prayer in counseling, and may not introduce spirituality into the counseling sessions at all. Counseling or clinical psychologists may introduce spirituality into counseling if appropriate.

Psychiatrists don’t always prescribe medication, and instead choose focus more on mental health counseling. Specific job duties may change, depending on the mental health counselor and his or her organization and location.

For more tips on counseling careers, read Does Psychotherapy Work? 3 Tips for Analyzing Your Psychotherapist. You’ll learn about counseling from the client’s perspective!

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2 thoughts on “5 Different Types of Psychologists, Psychotherapists, and Counselors”

  1. Thank you for commenting, Samantha! Yes, I would love for you to share your story. Please email it to me when you’re ready – I’ll email you directly so you know how to contact me personally.


  2. Hey Laurie,
    I’m in the mental health care system, pretty much for my life or at least the next few years and I had no idea there were this many mental health professionals.
    But what I really want to do is request to share my story. I would have done it directly on the page but i seemed to have missed the comments section.
    Briefly, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2010 when I was 20 (yes I’m still very young). It completely shattered my self-concept of being intelligent and perceptive, which I was before my episodes and still am today. I have always found humor in most situations no matter how bad cheer me up, so my story would be how comedy brought me to enter community college, become accepted into Phi Theta Kappa, the US’s most prominent community college academic society, am now applying to four year schools, 20+ hour job as a cashier constantly dealing with the public, and right now I’m the second highest fundraiser for NAMIWalks NYC at $756, the walkathon to be held May 11th.
    My illness made me a stronger, better person, I truly believe that.