Why a Clinical Psychologist Is Your Best Choice For Counseling And Psychotherapy

This article was originally published at https://www.ocpapsych.org/

There are excellent clinicians in all mental health disciplines. However, for counseling and psychotherapy the most highly trained mental health professional is a Clinical Psychologist. Psychoactive medication treatment should never be done without psychotherapy. In itself, it can never resolve the core reason why a person is depressed or anxious. When prescribed without counseling it is similar to giving a person with a broken arm only pain-reducing medication. It is estimated today that greater than 80% of psychoactive medications are prescribed by non-psychiatric physicians. Unfortunately the majority of these patients never receive the benefit of counseling where someone helps them to discover and understand why they are depressed or anxious, struggling in their marriage or parental role or attempting to bring out the best in the employees they manage.

graph showing years of training

Clinical Psychologists are the best trained psychotherapist among mental health professionals. Why? Training and an emphasis upon understanding why the person struggles rather than medicating symptoms. First on depth of training.

The typical Clinical Psychologist spends 11 years studying human behavior. This consists of 4 years for a Baccalaureate degree. An additional 2 years to achieve a Master’s degree. And 3-4 additional years to earn a Ph.D. After earning the doctoral degree an additional year in a post-doctoral internship must be completed before licensing. Training in human behavior includes all of the major theoretical disciplines covering early child development, marriage, family, group and organizational behavior. A Clinical Psychologist’s ability in psychological testing is unsurpassed. Training is beginning to include medication treatment, which until recently was most widely done by general physicians and psychiatrists.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who completes a 2 to 3 year residency in psychiatry after medical school. The majority of their education has little to do with human behavior. This residency is typically completed in an inpatient mental health unit affiliated with a medical school or at a V.A. hospital. Actual classroom work during this residency is less than the time spent managing cases under the auspices of a board-certified instructor. The strength of this training lies within the experience they gain with severe pathologies like Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders. The weakness in their training is evident in how little course work they receive. The result is very little knowledge of the theoretical schools, psychological testing or experimental research and design. In the early 1980’s psychiatric residency training shifted away from psychotherapy to a physiological emphasis. It has resulted in practice patterns that rely upon medication to a much greater degree than any other mental health provider.


The actual course work in human behavior that both of these disciplines are required to complete is greater than that finished by psychiatry. However, the actual post-graduate training in human behavior is three years versus the six years for a Clinical Psychologist. The strength in an LCSW’s training involves their skill in finding programs necessary for example for the Alzheimer or handicap able patient. Similar to a psychiatrist, training in psychological testing is limited. Also, mastery of the extensive literature on the psychology of human behavior is curtailed. An MFCC is a master level counselor with the least training of all mental health practitioners. Their strength can lie within family and child counseling skills due to their training in family systems theory.

The Psychologist

psychologist is trained in psychology to examine human behavior.

licensed psychologist must have a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D.), in psychology from an approved university or professional school of psychology. In addition, 3000 hours of supervised clinical experience, in a hospital, clinic, or other health care facility, must be completed before application for licensure by the California State Psychological Examining Committee. Licensing includes acceptable scores on written and oral examinations, and adherence to ethical standards and continuing professional education.

Clinical psychologists have widely diversified specialties depending upon their training and experience, including psychoanalysis, behavior modification, hypnosis, and biofeedback. Many psychologists do psychological and neuro-psychological evaluations and testing. Forensic psychologists may perform evaluations or appear in court as expert witnesses.

clinical psychologist may practice in private offices, serve as a member of medical staff of a hospital, in a clinic, medical group, community mental health center, or other health care facility. Clinical psychologists treat:

  • Mental, emotional, or nervous disorders, i.e., anxiety, phobias, depression, or psychosis.
  • Crisis that require hospitalization, i.e., attempted suicide, alcohol and drug dependency.
  • The psychological aspects of physical illness or injury.
  • Life adjustment problems that cause difficulty in daily living, such as marital, family, or sexual problems.
  • Vocational and rehabilitation difficulties.
  • Services for the developmentally disabled.

counseling psychologist works with adjustment or developmental problems, i.e., information about vocational rehabilitation, choice of jobs, or adjustment to a new lifestyle. Counseling psychologists usually work for mental health agencies, colleges, and universities.

school psychologist works within the educational system, establishing relationships among parents, teachers, administrators, and other psychologists.

An educational psychologist is concerned with learning and teaching. Utilizing educational and psychological testing, the educational psychologist helps teachers foster growth for the child in the classroom.

developmental psychologist is concerned with human growth and factors that help shape behavior from birth through old age.

social psychologist is interested in the ways that interactions influence attitudes and behaviors. This includes behavior or groups and public opinion research.

An industrial or organizational psychologist facilitates selecting employees for a particular job, developing training programs and helping management seek solutions to problems that involve the welfare and morale of the employees.