Psychologist vs. Therapist Salary Outlook
From the average person’s point of view, the day-to-day work of a psychologist and a therapist would look very similar, and, indeed, that’s often the case. Depending on their educational background and specialty areas, the two professionals may have daily work tasks that look very similar, as both are likely to focus on helping others cope with emotional or behavioral issues.
But while there are some similar aspects, the two roles are quite different, particularly when it comes to education and salary expectations. Let’s take a look at how these two crucial parts of the mental health ecosystem compare and how they vary.
Psychologist vs. Therapist Education
Both therapists and psychologists will typically work directly with patients or clients to provide mental health treatment, but where they differ the most is when it comes to education. In every state, advanced training is required for most professional psychologist work, particularly when that work is clinical in nature, meaning when professionals are dealing directly with clients.
Therapists need advanced training as well, but for psychologists, a doctoral degree is typically required. That means earning a traditional Ph.D. or a clinical-focused Psy.D., or Doctor of Psychology. These degree programs are very rigorous and generally take at least five years to complete.
On the other hand, therapists may be able to find jobs with only a bachelor’s degree, depending on the role and the state in which they practice. Most of them, however, will need to obtain a master’s degree in psychology or a closely related field.
Psychologist vs. Therapist Licensing
Depending on the nature of their work, both types of professionals will need to obtain state licensure in order to practice professionally. Psychologists who work in research or academic settings won’t usually need a license because they are not providing mental healthcare services.
Rules in every state are different, but psychologists and therapists alike will need to complete a set number of internship or supervised professional experience hours in order to satisfy state requirements. And they both must keep up with continuing education requirements that also vary by state.
In a handful of states, psychologists can earn prescribing authority that’s usually reserved only for psychiatrists, who are physicians. Only five states currently grant this authority (Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and New Mexico), and psychologists who wish to prescribe medications will face additional educational requirements.
Students in the psychology space should be sure to consult the rules in their state with regard to licensure before beginning an educational program. That’s because in some cases, certain educational accreditation may be needed.
For example, while most states prefer psychologist licensing candidates to complete degrees that have been accredited by the American Psychological Association, for the most part, candidates with other types of psychology doctorates may still obtain a state license. But some states will not accept any other accreditation. Iowa, for instance, has no mechanism for evaluating psychology doctorates that have not been accredited by the APA.
Psychologist vs. Therapist Salary
In every state, the average psychologist can expect to earn more than the average therapist. But that should come as no surprise, since the typical psychologist must obtain a doctoral degree, while therapists can become licensed after earning a master’s degree in most places.
But it may be surprising to learn that in some states, the differences in the two salary rates are quite modest, while in others they are extreme. For the purposes of comparison, we’ve analyzed salary rates in every state for two jobs — Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists, and Marriage and Family Therapists. While there are other jobs in both of these areas, data for these roles is quite robust and will provide a good basis of analysis.
Our data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2019 publication (BLS.gov).
Average annual salaries for psychologists and therapists and % difference
|District of Columbia||$106,900.00||$49,710.00||46.5%|
For the entire U.S., the average psychologist salary is about $81,000 per year compared to about $53,000 for therapists, putting therapists at around 65% of the expected salary rate for their psychologist counterparts.
In a few states, though, the gulf is much smaller. In Oklahoma and Illinois, therapists make more than 90% of the average salary for psychologists. On the other end of the spectrum, psychologists in both California and the District of Columbia make more than double what the average therapist earns in those states.
Those with a passion for studying human behavior and helping others to better cope with day-to-day stress, improve their relationships or overcome major behavioral disorders, there’s no doubt that many career options exist. As with any field, the educational path you take is often the most important decision, but given the intense investment of time involved in any advanced program, considering your future earning potential can be valuable.
- As referenced, we used BLS data for the year 2019, published in 2020, to make our salary comparisons. For a few states, data was unavailable, and so other figures were substituted. Hawaii’s average psychologist salary rate for 2019 was not available, so that state’s 2018 number was used.
- Salary figures for therapists were unavailable for Delaware, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont, so an average of figures for nearby states was used.