When someone first begins to think about getting help for their mental health issues or concerns, they are bombarded by a plethora of keywords like ‘counseling’, ‘therapy’, ‘psychologist’, ‘psychiatrist’ etc, Even though India has made great strides over the years in the field of psychology, the general public still lacks a solid knowledge and . awareness regarding what these terms mean and how they operate under the big giant umbrella of mental health services. Like most people, seeking therapy that relies on a scientific approach may seem like the best bet. And that’s the reason why people get swayed to visit a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist in Mumbai or other metropolitan cities. After all, the more degrees one has and the more arbitrary tests one can administer, the better the results would be, right?

Not to dismiss the obvious positive results of various branches or practices of psychology across the spectrum. But, not every branch of psychology works the same. Be it counseling, therapy, clinical psychology, or psychiatry, all the practices exist to help the concerns of different demographics. Even though one might see various overlaps in the treatments, not every branch of psychology is suited for everyone. So here comes the million-dollar question, when you start your mental health journey, which one should you go for? A clinical psychologist or a counseling psychologist? Let’s take a deep dive and find out!

A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional with highly specialized training in the diagnosis and psychological treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional illnesses. To become a clinical psychologist in Mumbai, one must first complete their master’s in clinical psychology and then pick a specialization for the same in M.Phil. After completing their M.Phil, clinical psychologists get to deal with patients who require clinical attention. They generally don’t deal with day-to-day problems. People often get confused between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are required to complete their MBBS first and then study psychiatry in their MD. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications, while a clinical psychologist diagnoses and treats patients with various different mental disorders by applying various forms of therapies.

The goal of a clinical psychologist is to help their clients identify their psychological, emotional, or behavioral issues and then assist them by defining goals and creating a plan of action to help them achieve their personal, social, educational, and vocational development goals. Clinical psychologists use the most up-to-date version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) which is published by the American Psychological Association to guide and confirm their diagnoses as well as their treatment plans. Clinical psychologists tailor their treatment plans for every individual patient, as every person has different issues and responds best to different forms of therapies. In order to develop valid and reliable ways to measure how well specific treatments and interventions are working, they tend to deploy various assessment research. Therefore, clinical psychologists utilize assessments and work on the development of valid and reliable testing methods. These assessments are done by interviewing the patients, looking at their medical records, and conducting clinical observations. Testing is also done in the form of intelligence and achievement tests, vocational tests, and other tests designed to measure aptitude and skill levels. By taking such a comprehensive assessment approach, clinical psychologists are able to determine the most effective and appropriate psychological treatments and interventions for their clients.

On the other hand, a counseling psychologist, more commonly known as a therapist or a counselor, differs from a clinical psychologist in Mumbai in some crucial ways. Licensed therapists, at minimum, possess a master’s degree in a field related to psychotherapy. Usually, they have a master’s in counseling psychology. However, there are a lot of counselors across the country who do possess a doctorate-level education. The major difference between the two branches of psychology stems from their approach to treatment. A clinical psychologist’s approach toward treatment is usually informed by psychological research. Their training is more focused on research areas such as human behavior, development, and personality. They also cover approaches to psychotherapy assessments. In practice, this means that a psychologist may have more in-depth knowledge of science and academic literature on psychology as a basis for their treatment. At the same time, therapists pursue academic training that is more focused on therapeutic approaches rather than research and carries strong theoretical backgrounds that help people work through issues impacting their mental health. Counselors can also help their clients work through systemic difficulties, such as those occurring within the family, school, or community structures.

To simplify the jargon, a clinical psychologist in Mumbai would focus on diagnoses, while a counseling psychologist would use a more holistic approach. This means discussing an individual as a whole person, allowing one to focus on their emotional state. Psychologists would focus more on how thoughts and behaviors interact with a person’s environment. Overall, counselors and psychologists are both open-minded, empathetic, and understanding professionals who help one achieve their individual therapy goals. So choosing between the two boils down to what concerns a person is hoping to address. Even though all of these professionals are valuable to the mental health field, they help their clients in different ways.

A therapist or counseling psychologist may specialize in play therapy, marriage, divorce, or couples therapy, family counseling, grief counseling, group therapy, cultural competency training, career counseling, community counseling, school counseling, substance abuse, and addiction counseling. Rather than academic research and diagnostic tests, therapists are more likely to focus on gaining a big picture of their client’s life and mental health concerns, helping their clients discuss their feelings and addressing them in a constructive manner, guiding their clients through healthy decision-making processes, and using talk therapy or other techniques to offer support.

A clinical psychologist on the other hand may study one or more applications to treatment and specialize in: neuroscience, developmental psychology, intellectual and developmental disabilities, decision science, cognitive psychology, and psycholinguistics. Clinical psychologist helps their patients by diagnosing a mental health condition based on observation and surveys, researching conditions and providing treatment recommendation, providing therapy to help conditions, and helping clients work through emotions and sensations so that they can better understand them and make constructive decisions for themselves, and work with a psychiatrist to get prescription if needed.

Both psychologists and therapists are good starting points for general counseling, for anxiety, and depression. One might consider a clinical psychologist if a mental health condition is causing severe symptoms that interfere with their daily life. Even though one might think a higher level of education and training makes a clinical psychologist a much better option, it is important to note that the tests administered by clinical psychologists are usually self-administered. And oftentimes, people consciously or unconsciously tend to hide the truth or dissociate from their traumas. Since a huge majority of people face trouble actualizing and being objective with their mental health traumas and pain points, it can skew the results of a clinical test and end up in a misdiagnosis. So if you are unsure as to what issue is bothering you and causing mental suffering, it would be better to talk to a counselor first to figure out the root cause of your grievances. No matter which professional you end up choosing, make sure that you are comfortable with them so that you can build a solid foundation for successful long-term care. Remember, the road to healing is a long, winding path and in the end, all that matters is the professional you are most comfortable with sharing that journey.