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Difference between psychologist and psychiatrist and therapist

On this page you will learn more about the differences between psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists.

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Sometimes when you start to consider having therapy and seek professional help to overcome your difficulties, you will end up facing another difficult choice: what is better for me? A counsellor, a psychologist, a therapist or a psychiatrist? Which do you need help from?

To give you more insight, we are going to look at the various professions within the mental health field, to analyze how they differ, how they can help so you can choose the best one to fulfill your needs. Although they share the same fundamental aim, their training, outlook, and methodologies are often different.

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and their qualifications must be at a doctoral level. There are different types of psychologists, both of them will learn a range of therapies that are most useful for their particular specialization:

Counselling Psychologists are usually specialized in counselling and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Clinical Psychologists are trained to assess and treat people with a wide range of difficulties, but then tend to specialize in a particular area at the end of their general training. In the UK they tend to work primarily within the NHS and prison services.

Clinical psychology training is funded through the NHS and involves undertaking any of the 30 doctorate courses in clinical psychology offered in the UK. Whereas counselling psychology is typically funded by the individual and involves studying any of the 14 doctorate courses in counselling psychology available in the UK. However, both operate through a scientific and evidenced-based model practice and have comparable skill sets to help individuals of all ages, both in group, family, or individual settings.

Just to clarify a matter that usually creates confusion: psychologists, whilst doctors, are not medical doctors, and cannot write prescriptions. Only psychiatrists can prescribe medication.

What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors registered with the General Medical Council. They are trained to differentiate mental health issues from other medical, underlying conditions that could cause psychiatric symptoms; as well to identify and treat medical or neurological conditions that present with primarily psychological symptoms.

They often work hand-in-in with psychologists to provide holistic care solutions that treat the whole issue.

What is a psychotherapist or a counsellor?

Both terms are very similar in their background, training, techniques, and methods used in therapy to help clients overcome their difficulties, and very often there is no distinction between the professions. They focus on establishing a good relationship between themselves and their clients as a main condition for a successful treatment, creating a safe environment where the client can talk and discuss their feelings freely, to get in touch with their real self, identify their needs and discover the best way to meet them.

They can offer help in a range of areas, such as: bereavement, depression, relationship issues, work related difficulties, abuse, low self-esteem, life events, stress and addictions.

Both titles “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not legally protected in the UK, so you should check the professional´s credentials.

Updated: 2022-11-14

Author: Marina Moran

Reviewed by: Antigone Lanitis