Confused? You are not alone. In the field of psychology, there are so many different types of credentials that it can be overwhelming to try to decipher all of them. Hopefully, this brief explanation will help to clarify this for you.

Psychiatry – A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has the legal authority to write prescriptions for psychotropic medication. Most prescribed medications are administered for anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric disorders. In the early years of psychiatry there was a great deal of training in psychotherapy, but now most physicians specialize in prescribing medication and frequently work with (or refer to) a licensed psychotherapist for counseling. There are also nurse practitioners who are able to write prescriptions, but they are not allowed to perform counseling services unless they are licensed to do so.

Psychotherapy – There are numerous degrees and licenses in this area. This license requires a minimum of a Master’s Degree. Mental Health Counselors, Clinical Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Psychologists fall under this category. Education mostly involves general theories of counseling; behavioral, cognitive, non-directive, gestalt, and some psychoanalytic techniques. Psychologists have doctorate degrees in Psychology and have additional training in research and testing. A supervised internship and state examination are required prior to licensing.

Certified Addictions Counselors must have at least a bachelor’s degree and receive credentials by an approved addictions training program. Addictions counselors are trained in diagnosis, treatment, and counseling newly sober individuals. All counselors must have supervision and pass an examination prior to certification.


Psychoanalyst – Psychoanalysis, developed by Sigmund Freud and later built upon by numerous followers, focuses on the unconscious (past) and the effects of repressed memories that have an effect on current behavior. Dream analysis and free association (talking about whatever comes to mind) are part of the analysis. The relationship between the analyst and the patient is key to working through blockages from the past that are reenacted and healed in the analytic setting. In addition to being licensed in one of the above Licensed areas, a certified psychoanalyst must have a minimum of four years in each area: education, supervision that involves case presentations, and a personal analysis of at least three times weekly (some programs require 4-5 times weekly). All psychoanalysts are psychotherapists, but few psychotherapists are psychoanalysts. This is generally due to the extensive long term commitment of money and time required in order to be fully certified.

Which of these is right for you? If you need medication and you are in counseling, your therapist will generally refer you to a psychiatrist that can help you. If you are not in counseling, your physician or health plan can provide a recommendation.

Licensed Counselors and Psychologists are able to help with most counseling needs. However, if you have tried these methods and feel that you are still stuck in patterns that you are unable to break, psychoanalysis might be the most rewarding for your time and commitment.

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