When I was about to go to college, I went to a friend of my parents’ who was a mental health professional (don’t remember which flavor) to find out the different types and determine which I wanted to be. That year in freshman psych, I got the exact same info:
Psychiatrist & psychologist are legal terms - note this may have changed some, but I haven’t heard of any changes.
In order to call yourself a psychiatrist, you must have a degree in medicine and do an internship with another psychiatrist.
In order to call yourself a (clinical) psychologist you must have a Phd in Psychology and pass a state sponsored exam. This is Texas, it may be different in other places. (And you may only need a Masters, but I doubt it)
In order to call yourself a counselor or a therapist, you have to rent an office and put a sign up.
Note that none of the above criteria guarantee that a mental health professional will be good, or even up to speed on current research. The best therapist I’ve had is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, although he does have a Doctorate of Education.
Being a member of a mental health professional association is a much better recommendation.
I personally would never go to a psychiatrist for two reasons:
- The education of doctors tends to emphasize using medicine to treat problems. Many mental health problems are better solved using non-medical interventions. A good therapist will be associated with a doctor in case medicine is needed; but the therapist will tend to use non-medical interventions primarily.
- Unless it has changed, the only training in psychology that a psychiatrist gets is from the doctor he or she interned with. As a result, some psychiatrists may be terribly out of date regarding psychological theory. In fact, there may even still be Freudian psychiatrists out there. If you ever get one, run like hell! Every time I read something more about Freudian theory, it’s even more backwards and destructive than I previously realized.