Thinking about seeing a therapist but confused about all the different titles? Psychiatrist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychopharmacologist, psychotherapist — that’s a lot of psychos! Many people are perplexed by the preponderance of “p-words” in the mental health profession.
So, as Richard Nixon used to say, let me make things perfectly clear. (Admittedly, Richard Nixon was not the best person to turn to on issues of mental health — or clarity.) Here is a (remarkably incomplete) guide to the world of the mind:
Psychotherapist — This is an umbrella term for any professional who is trained to treat people for their emotional problems. Depending upon their academic degree, a psychotherapist can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker (among others), and work with individuals, couples, groups, or families.
Psychiatrist — This person has a medical degree and, unlike most psychotherapists, can prescribe psychotropic (psychiatric) medication. Many psychiatrists -— referred to as psychopharmacologists — provide only prescriptions and medication management; you would need to see a psychotherapist additionally for talk therapy. Traditional psychiatrists continue to practice psychotherapy.
Psychologist — This person has a Ph.D. in psychology. In addition to performing talk therapy, they have training in psychological testing (i.e., the Rorschach test, among others). They can also perform research protocols. (Psychologists who concentrate on research generally work in academic or research settings.) Some psychologists who are trained specifically to do clinical work (rather than research) have “PsyD” (Psychology Doctorate) as their academic degree, rather than Ph.D.
Social Worker — When people hear “social worker,” they think of professionals who provide social services in hospitals and agencies. However, some social workers also practice psychotherapy. Their education is somewhat similar to that of a psychologist (although they may have only a master’s degree), but they are usually more attuned to the individual in their environment, and they do not provide psychological testing. Depending upon the state in which they are licensed, social workers may be LCSWs (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LICSWs (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker), LSWs (Licensed Social Worker), among an alphabet soup of titles.
Psychoanalyst — After receiving a professional degree, some psychotherapists go on to extensive special training in this in-depth therapy modality that helps people get to the root of their problems. Psychoanalysis, as first invented by Sigmund Freud, is the only method that works with the unconscious — motivations and defense mechanisms that are out of our awareness, and therefore cause us to repeat harmful patterns. The couch, free association, dream analysis, and transference (originally defined as the patient transferring his or her feelings toward their parents onto the analyst), are all exclusive tenets of psychoanalysis. The unfortunate stereotype of the silent therapist who only wants to talk about people’s childhoods (rather unfairly) comes out of this model.
Today, many psychoanalysts are drawn to more contemporary models that build on, but also greatly diverge from, Freud’s original thinking. These therapists — sometimes known as “relational analysts” — are more active and interested in people’s current-day problems and how they are influenced by past experience. We look at how people interact with others in ways that only reinforce existing fears and patterns, and we look to create new experiences and ways of seeing oneself, including within the therapeutic relationship. Contrary to the stereotype, psychoanalysts do give advice and opinions, but we also do much more than that.
Traditionally, psychoanalytic patients came to sessions at least three times a week and lay on the couch. Today, many people in psychoanalytic (or psychodynamic) psychotherapy attend only once or twice a week. The couch is optional; some relational analysts never use it at all. Psychoanalysis differs from other forms of psychotherapy (like cognitive-behavioral therapy) in that it is more comprehensive and emphasizes getting to the bottom of problems, rather than simply alleviating symptoms.
Differences between psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy
This page explains the significant differences between roles in psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy.
Staff working in these roles tend to deal with different types of problems, although there is also considerable overlap in their work.
Below is a brief description of each of the different areas.
Psychology is the study of people: how they think, how they act, react and interact. It’s concerned with all aspects of behaviour and the thoughts, feelings and motivation underlying such behaviour.
Psychology is a discipline that is firstly concerned with the normal functioning of the mind and has explored areas such as learning, remembering and the normal psychological development of children. It has been one of the fastest growing university subjects and is increasingly available in schools and colleges.
Psychologists are not usually medically qualified and only a small proportion of people studying psychology degrees will go on to work with patients.
Psychologists can specialise in a number of areas, such as mental health and educational and occupational psychology. In healthcare, psychologists specialise in clinical, counselling, forensic or health psychology.
Psychological therapy roles
There are also roles using psychology for other staff, including assistant psychologists, psychological wellbeing practitioners and high intensity therapists
Psychiatry is the study of mental health problems and their diagnosis, management and prevention. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have qualified in psychiatry. They often combine a broad general caseload alongside an area of special expertise and research.
Psychotherapy is conducted with individuals, groups, couples and families. Psychotherapists help people to overcome stress, emotional and relationship problems or troublesome habits.
There are many different approaches in psychotherapy, or talking therapies, which include:
- cognitive behavioural therapies
- psychoanalytic therapies
- psychodynamic therapies
- systemic and family psychotherapy
- arts and play therapies
- humanistic and integrative psychotherapies
- experiential constructivist therapies
A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy. Increasingly, there are a number of psychotherapists who do not have backgrounds in the above fields, but who have undertaken in-depth training in this area.
Medical psychotherapists are fully-qualified doctors who have qualified in psychiatry and then undertaken a three or four-year specialist training in psychotherapy. Their role is in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with psychiatric illnesses.
Therapists vs. Psychiatrists
The Difference Between Therapists and Psychiatrists
Is a psychiatrist a therapist?
Types of Therapists
- Marriage and family counselors.
- Mental health counselors.
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorders counselors.
- Rehabilitation counselors.
- School guidance counselors.
Clinical social workers
Should I See a Therapist or a Psychiatrist?
Differences in Education
Differences in Training
Therapist vs. Psychiatrist Salaries
Therapist vs. Psychiatrist Checklist
Two Different Professions With the Same Goal
What is the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist?
A therapist is a licensed counselor or psychologist who can use talk therapy to help you treat mental health symptoms and improve how you manage stress and relationships. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose and prescribe medication to treat mental health disorders.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A psychologist has a master’s or doctoral degree and uses various psychotherapy methods to improve patients’ symptoms. A psychiatrist has a medical degree and can utilize many treatment options, including medications, to treat mental health conditions.
Which profession takes the most time?
Becoming a psychiatrist requires the greatest time commitment. Psychiatrists must complete an undergrad degree, medical school and a four-year residency. Many therapists complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and some go through a year or two of supervised clinical training.
Does a psychiatrist or therapist get paid more?
A psychiatrist’s salary is much higher than a psychologist or licensed counselor’s salary. Therapists’ salaries vary significantly depending on their training and area of expertise.