Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a "therapist"?
The most straightforward way to distinguish the different types of mental health providers is by the type of education and training they received.
- Psychiatrist: A medical doctor (MD) or osteopathic doctor (DO). Has completed 4 years of medical school and 1/2 to 1 full year of general medicine internship training as part of a 4-year psychiatry residency training program. Child psychiatrists generally have completed 5-6 years of residency training. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications as well as provide therapy. These days, however, there are fewer psychiatrists who will provide therapy in their practice.
- Clinical Psychologist: Can be a PsyD or PhD
- Other "Therapists": Can include social workers (MSW, LICSW) and mental health clinicians
2. I'm still confused. What is the difference between a therapist and counselor?
It is commonly thought that these two terms are interchangeable. However, there is a subtle distinction.
- Therapist: Refers to someone who can provide "therapy," or emotional or psychological support. A therapist can be a psychiatrist (MD or DO), a psychologist (PhD, PsyD), a social worker (MSW, LICSW), or othere licensed mental health provider. Of these, only a psychiatrist can manage the medications and provide therapy, though in some states, psychologists and nurse practitioners may be able to prescribe as well.
- Counselor: A more general term used to describe someone who, like a therapist, can provide emotional support. However, counselors usually do not include MDs, DOs, or PhDs. They tend to have specific training to counsel in a specific area, e.g., substance abuse, marriage, high school academics.
3. What do I do if I or a loved one experiences a psychiatric crisis?
If you are thinking about harming yourself, or know someone who is, tell someone who can help immediately.
- Call your doctor.
- Call 911, or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help. Ask a friend or family member to help you do these things.
- Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to talk to a trained counselor: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) .
- Make sure you, or the suicidal person, is not left alone.
4. Why is it so expensive to see a psychiatrist?
Unfortunately, in many places, mental health coverage is not on par with medical coverage. Many patients are left with limited options and no choice but to pay out of pocket. As much of a hurdle the cost of diagnosis and treatment may be, it is important to understand that mental health is an extremely worthwhile and necessary investment. Prevention, early detection, and treatment are essential for the long-term prognosis. If you or a loved one hesitates to receive mental health care because of the high cost of services, bear in mind that the long-term financial consequences can be far more significant, as isolation and unemployment create far greater financial burden on families.
5. My mother only speaks Chinese. Can I find her a Chinese psychiatrist?
Nearly 1 out of 2 AA/PIs will have difficulty accessing mental health treatment because they do not speak English or cannot find services that meet their language needs. Approximately 70 AAPI providers are available for every 100,000 AA/PIs in the U.S., compared to 173 per 100,000 whites. No reliable information is available regarding the Asian language capabilities of mental health providers in the U.S. Although it may be preferable to match the ethnicity and/or language of the patient to the provider, this is not always a realistic strategy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandates that health care providers affiliated with federal and state hospitals be able to provide "culturally competent" care, as well as interpreter services. If it is important to you or your loved one to find a provider who is from the same ethnic background, the best approach may be ask community members for recommendations.