If you are thinking about pursuing a degree in behavioral and social sciences like a Bachelor of Science in Human Services or Psychology, it’s important to know the key differences between two common career paths for graduates of these programs.

Many people use “psychologist” and “therapist” interchangeably despite differences in educational requirements, job expectations, salary potential and career outlook.

What Is a Psychologist?

Psychologists are social scientists who study human behavior and processes in clinical or research settings. Psychologists must have either a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a PhD in Psychology. The main difference between these two degrees is that a PsyD focuses more on practical work and a PhD focuses on research and a dissertation. Both doctoral programs generally accept prospective students who have earned a master’s degree in behavioral sciences.

Different kinds of psychologists include:

  • Clinical psychologists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Counseling psychologists
  • Developmental psychologists
  • School psychologists
  • Forensic psychologists
  • Industrial-organizational psychologists

In general, psychologists study behavior and the functions of the brain through observations, interviews, surveys and other methods of collecting information. Laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are all common for psychologists. They look for patterns in behaviors and causality in order to make diagnoses and to understand the human brain.

Psychologists need a license to practice. Requirements vary by state; however, licensure typically requires a doctorate in psychology, an internship and at least one or two years of supervised professional experience. They also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

What Is a Therapist?

Therapists work directly with clients to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. They listen to and discuss their clients’ emotions, experiences, treatment plans and more. Therapists combine different kinds of treatment to best aid in the recovery of mental disorders and behavioral issues.

To become a therapist, individuals generally need a master’s degree. However, like psychologists, therapists are required to have a license. There are many professional organizations that offer licensing.

What Skills Do Therapists and Psychologists Need?

Both of these careers require many of the same skills and knowledge because both inherently involve interacting with clients and studying their behavior. Interpersonal skills, listening, communication and compassion are all essential to success. Both are required to be very organized to take care of the records they keep and the data they collect.

Which Route Should I Take?

There is much to consider when thinking about a therapist vs. psychologist career path. Do you want to pursue a doctoral degree to become a psychologist? Do you want to focus on solving immediate problems like therapists or perform longer-term studies like psychologists?

Since “therapist” is a broad term for many different kinds of professionals, pursuing this career path offers many different kinds of specializations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is $43,190 annually. The average salary for psychologists is $72,580 per year. Both occupational fields are projected to grow 19 percent by 2024. This is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations.