Which kind of psychology professional do I need?

The field of psychology is broad and encompasses many different kinds of professionals with many different degrees.  This post will help you think about your needs and whether Sweetwater Counseling is the right choice for you.  These guidelines apply for Pennsylvania.  

  • Psychiatrist: This person has a medical degree and can prescribe medications.  S/he will get an idea of your symptoms and will work with you to try to find a medication-based solution.  S/he will usually also recommend that you work with a therapist or counselor weekly in order to find behavioral and environmental solutions.  You will probably see your psychiatrist about once a month until you find out what prescriptions work for you.  Your psychiatrist may also do some talk therapy with you, but this is rarer.  S/he may recommend some medical testing to find possible causes of your symptoms.  
  • Psychologist: This person has either a doctoral degree in a psychological field (can be anything from Christian Counseling to a Ph.D. in psychology) or was grandfathered in under a previous licensing system and has a Master's Degree in a psychological field.  S/he will use counseling techniques to help you talk about your symptoms and to guide you toward finding solutions.  
  • Counselor: This person has a Master's Degree in a psychological field.  This can be a social work degree, counseling ministries degree, or clinical psychology degree.  S/he will help you to meet your goals using non-pharmaceutical methods.  These can range from traditional talk therapy to solution-focused or art therapy and many things in between.  Can work with families, couples, and individuals.  
  • Marriage and Family Therapist: This person has a Master's Degree in a psychological field, and will use similar techniques to a counselor.  Can work with families, couples, and individuals.  
  • Coach: This field is not as strictly regulated in the state of Pennsylvania.  A coach tends to work for a specified time period to achieve personal and professional goals, and focuses on those goals rather than emotions.  


It is very important that you check the kind of degree that your clinician has.  Many people have degrees in social services and counseling fields, but they are not all able to provide the same level of care, and their focus may be different from yours.  It's not enough to determine what level of degree it is, you need to find out what the degree is in.  

  • Clinical Psychology: This course of study encompasses a whole-person paradigm of psychological health.  A degree in this area means that the holder has studied biological, cultural, environmental, and family bases for health and illness.  S/he has studied child and adolescent development, personality psychology, social psychology, family and marital therapy, and counseling skills.  S/he is able to review and understand current scientific research.  S/he will be familiar with many different methods of dealing with anything from life transitions to depression and anxiety.  Depending on the bestowing institution, a faith focus may be included.  Sweetwater Counseling clinicians all have Clinical Psychology degrees.  
  • Counseling: This course of study deals more with counseling skills.  This person will be familiar with several methods of counseling directed at different kinds of illness or life transition.  S/he will often have an empathic focus.  This degree is similar to one in Christian Counseling.  
  • Counseling Ministries/Pastoral Counseling: This degree focuses on a religious framework of counseling.  This person has worked on the integration of counseling skills with relgion, and has studied the field of psychology primarily from a religious perspective rather than a biological one.  These degrees often focus more on using Biblical wisdom as a method to counsel.  
  • Biblical Counseling: This degree is not a psychology degree, but a religious one.  A Biblical counselor will help you apply the wisdom of the Bible to your daily struggles, and can help with spiritual direction.  
  • Social Work: This degree focuses on the cultural and social aspects of problems in living.  This person can often help with family issues and is a good choice for someone who is looking for help navigating possible services available.  S/he is very knowledgable about charitable organizations and govermental services that might be a fit for your needs, and can help you interface with these organizations.  S/he has studied cultural variables that might cause your trouble.  
My plush neuron, Oliver (named for Oliver Sachs)

My plush neuron, Oliver (named for Oliver Sachs)