What is the Difference Between a Psychiatrist, a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist?

If you decide that you need help improving your mental health, you may meet with a professional to discuss how you are feeling. However, the job titles are sometimes confusing if you have not encountered them before. Therefore, this blog is to explain the basic differences between a Psychiatrist, a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist.

The names sound similar, but in fact, these professional titles indicate important differences in training and education. All of these people can help with your mental health, but they do so using their own special sets of skills. For your peace of mind, all helping professionals you seek should be registered with a governing body that you can look up online.

What is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are specialists in the part of medicine that studies mental illness.

Here are some other ways to describe what a Psychiatrist does:

  • Psychiatrists in the UK are governed by The Royal College of Psychiatry (RCPsych).
  • Psychiatrists have a detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology, psychology and pharmacology as well as social factors that underpin mental health and wellbeing.
  • Psychiatrists can prescribe medication to patients, unlike a Psychologist or Psychotherapist.
  • Psychiatrists are often central in creating the strategy for a patient’s recovery journey and work with other Professionals, namely Psychologists, to do this.
  • Treatment often combines medication with talking therapy, often provided by a Psychologist or Psychotherapist, who works alongside the Psychiatrist.
  • Some Psychiatrists choose to specialise in certain sub-specialties such as eating disorders, substance misuse, or within different age groups such as child, adolescent or old age psychiatry.
  • Some Psychiatrists, but not all, go on to do additional training in psychotherapy.

What is a Psychologist?

Psychologists specialise in the scientific study of people, the mind and behaviour.

Through their work, they seek to understand how people think, feel and behave, both on an individual and social level. There are many types of Psychologists, and some specialise in certain areas (like Forensic Psychologists and Educational Psychologists). Both Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists work to reduce psychological distress and enhance psychological well-being, and it is most likely you will see one of them for therapy.

Here are some other ways to describe UK Clinical and Counselling Psychologists:

  • They are qualified in Psychology through a degree from a university and then usually complete a 3-year Doctorate, which results in a DPsych degree.
  • They are accredited through the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) as Practitioner/ Registered Psychologists. You can click here to see if your Psychologist is registered.
  • Although not legally required, it is also good practice for Psychologists to also be Chartered with The British Psychological Society (BPS).
  • They utilise evidenced based, scientific knowledge to bring about positive change to the patient.
  • They are trained to deal with a wide range of mental and physical problems including addiction, anxiety, depression and relationship difficulties.
  • They are trained to work with people with behavioural, emotional or psychological distress that affects their normal everyday functioning.
  • Psychologists work in mental health settings, hospitals, clinics or health centres and can work with individuals, groups, couples or families.
  • Psychologists may work within a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
  • They are usually trained in several models of therapy, and favour certain therapy frameworks which are particularly effective at treating certain disorders, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Schema Therapy, Psychodynamic or Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), to name a few.
  • They do not and cannot prescribe medication.

What is a Psychotherapist?

The term ‘Psychotherapist’ is a broad term which encompasses helping professionals who treat mental illness through talking, instead of using drugs or operations.

It’s important to check that any Psychotherapist you see is registered with either the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)  or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). These are voluntary registers which ensure that your therapist meets stringent training criteria and has committed themselves to ethical practice.

Here are some other ways to describe what a Psychotherapist does:

  • Psychotherapists are professionals who help people overcome stress, emotional, relationship problems or problem habits using talking therapy.
  • A Psychotherapist may be a trained Psychologist or Psychiatrist but may also be a mental health professional, Counsellor or Social Worker who has undergone specialist training.
  • There are many different approaches to psychotherapy, some of which are:
    • Cognitive behavioural Therapy (CBT)
    • Psychoanalytic therapies
    • Arts and Play therapies
    • Systemic and family psychotherapy
  • Psychotherapists can work in mental health settings, hospitals, clinics or health centres and can work with individuals, groups, couples or families.
  • Some people specialise in Child Psychotherapy and work within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

It’s important to note that play and arts therapists such as dramatherapists, art therapists and music therapists should be registered with the HCPC, just as psychologists are. So, if you are looking for help from a professional in this area, please use the HCPC website to research them carefully.

It can seem confusing when you are first seeking help from a mental health professional. But what is most important is that you like who you are talking to and feel comfortable with them. No matter who you see, it’s the therapeutic relationship that is most predictive of change.

Therapy sessions can take many different forms, too. Sometimes, you may prefer one type to another. So if therapy doesn’t seem to be working for you, it’s OK for you to try a different kind to see which works the best for you.

If you would like to discuss whether you could benefit from therapy, please get in contact and arrange a chat to see if we can help.

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