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Master's Level Clinician Vs. Psychologist

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The generic term clinician is frequently used to describe anyone who provides clinical mental health services, such as evaluations, diagnoses and psychotherapy. There are many types of mental health clinicians, including clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors and psychologists. However, while clinicians of most professions may provide mental health services with just a master's degree, psychologists must have doctoral degrees in the field.

The Role of Clinicians

Mental health clinicians provide a variety of services to help people experiencing psychiatric disorders such as depression or anxiety, stress, workplace issues, family problems, relationship issues or issues related to abuse. They usually work in private or group practices, but many work in other settings, such as hospitals, community mental health clinics, non-profit organizations and schools. In addition to evaluation, diagnoses and psychotherapy, mental health clinicians may provide services such as drug and alcohol assessments, patient education or group sessions. A nurse practitioner is the only master's level mental health clinician that may prescribe medication in the United States.

Education and Training

Although mental health clinicians such as social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists and psychiatric nurses often practice with a master's degree, they may hold doctoral degrees in their fields, as well. In addition to a minimum of a master's degree, they must also be licensed in their states. Most mental health clinicians must complete a one- or two-year supervised internship during their graduate studies, usually providing direct services in a mental health setting such as a hospital or clinic. Some states require clinicians to participate in continuing education on a regular basis in order to maintain licensure.

The Role of Psychologists

Psychologists are licensed, doctoral-level mental health specialists who provide many of the same services as master's level clinicians. However, in addition to evaluations, diagnoses, psychotherapy, patient education and groups, psychologists may also administer psychological tests, such as IQ, personality or behavioral tests. In such cases, psychologists meet with patients to conduct psychological testing and consult with them to discuss test interpretations. Psychologists are licensed to prescribe medication only in New Mexico and Louisiana, according to the American Psychological Association.

Education and Training

Psychologists who provide clinical services must have doctoral degrees -- either a Ph.D, or a doctor of philosophy in psychology, a Psy.D, or doctor of psychology, or an Ed.D, or doctor of education, in psychology. In addition to completing a doctorate, psychologists must complete a one-year, supervised internship providing psychological services in a clinical setting. Many psychologists complete postdoctoral training, especially if they choose to specialize in a specific field, such as child and adolescent psychology or geriatrics.


Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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