What Is the Difference Between a Psychologist & a Therapist

Psychologists and marriage and family therapists both identify and develop solutions to troubling behavior and thoughts, but they use different approaches and require different levels of education. Read on to compare these two careers, and get salary and job outlook information.

Comparing Therapists to Psychologists

When people hear the word 'therapist,' they often think of a mental health professional; however, the term 'therapist' is very broad and can apply to physical problems as well. Marriage and family therapists are a specific career path for helping people solve emotional and psychological issues. Psychologists may also help people with mental issues and disorders, but they take a highly scientific approach and are often involved in facilitating studies and research initiatives. Some psychologists may not work with individual clients at all.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Marriage and Family Therapist Master's $49,170 15%
Psychologist Doctoral $75,230 19%

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Therapists vs. Psychologists

While both psychologists and marriage and family therapists may help clients resolve troubling mental issues, psychologists are a much broader umbrella of professionals who study the mind and its impact on behavior. Marriage and family therapists help patients develop skills to navigate their lives and relationships in a healthy way. Psychologists may or may not have actual clients; instead, some psychologists focus solely on research or the behavior of large groups of people. Each profession uses varied approaches and methodologies to achieve their goals, and they must stay updated on current trends and research.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, partners, and families to identify and resolve problems that negatively affect their relationships. Even when working with individuals, marriage and family therapists still focus on the social aspects present in their environment, such as how relationships affect their thoughts and behaviors. The goal of many marriage and family therapists is to help their clients learn pragmatic coping skills for healthier interactions. This can be achieved through various approaches, but many marriage and family therapists use cognitive-behavioral therapy to aim clients' attention at the link between thoughts and actions. Marriage and family therapists usually have excellent communication and oral comprehension skills.

Job responsibilities of a marriage and family therapist include:

  • Listening to and observing clients to identify origins to their problems
  • Creating and maintaining treatment plans
  • Teaching clients new methods and skills for coping with issues
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Maintaining updated knowledge of psychotherapy approaches through continuing education


Psychologists are professionals with clinical- or research-based degrees, and therefore take a scientific approach to observing, identifying, and making recommendations about thoughts and behaviors. There are many specializations within the field of psychology. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat disorders or conditions affecting their patients' everyday lives, and they may work with specific demographics or psychological specialties, such as children or those with brain injuries. Forensic psychologists work in the judicial system, and industrial-organizational psychologists study the behavior of groups in work environments. There are also distinct approaches for psychologists which impact how they practice in their field: psychoanalytical, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, and integrative. No matter what the field or theoretical background, psychologists are often involved in research initiatives and publications.

Job responsibilities of a psychologist include:

  • Diagnosing and treating patients for mental conditions or disorders
  • Participating in studies related to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, often within a specific field
  • Researching patterns of behavior and publishing findings
  • Sharing knowledge and insights with other professionals in their field

Related Careers

Related careers for therapists and psychologists focus on helping others and understanding behavior. Both social workers and sociologists are good choices for people interested in these goals.

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