A Psychologist, Psychiatrist or a Psychotherapist?

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In order to understand treatment options, it is important to clarify the different professions that are available within our mental health service. It is important to set expectations regarding the range of treatment options available when you engage with someone from a specific profession. In this section, we will clarify the different types of treatment available. These can broadly be categorised into individual, couples, relationships, family and groups and the context for treatment being face-to-face, internet-based, and telephone.

Regardless of the treatment, you choose there is no ‘quick fix’ for psychological difficulties, emotional distress and mental health disorders. Medication can help to alleviate symptoms and allow you to cope better with daily life. It can provide emotional stability to engage with self-help or professional treatment which may address underlying issues. Similarly, psychological therapy, counselling and psychotherapy can take time and commitment before you notice a sustained improvement. Sometimes treatment requires you to face difficult thoughts, feelings and problems some of which you may have previously avoided. However, the approach is taken always aims to do this only if necessary for recovery and in a safe manner and pace that is manageable for you.

What is the difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

Before going into detail about individual professions we will outline some basic differences. A psychiatrist is a medically trained doctor who chooses to specialise in mental health. The focus of this profession is mental health assessment and diagnosis, prescribing medication and medication management. In the UK a psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor cannot prescribe medication. Psychotropic medication can only be prescribed and managed by a psychiatrist or sometimes by your GP.

Psychologists focus extensively on psychological assessment, formulation (identifying psychological factors contributing to the problem) and treatments. They mainly apply a range of psychotherapeutic approaches to treat emotional, cognitive and behavioural difficulties and distress. Using their extensive scientific training, psychologists integrate psychological theory and research with therapeutic practice. The aim is to treat mental health problems, reduce psychological distress and to enhance and promote psychological well-being.


What is the difference between a Psychotherapist and a Counsellor

Counselling is a straightforward form of talking therapy that can feel like an everyday conversation. However, the conversation is different as it involves a trained counsellor actively listening to you and helping you find ways to deal with emotional issues. The term ‘counselling’ can sometimes be used to refer to talking therapies in general, but counselling is also a type of therapy, typically taking a non-structured, non-directive, person-centred and empathic approach. The counsellor can help you gain a better understanding of your feelings and thought processes with the ultimate purpose being that you find your own solutions to problems.

Psychotherapy is also a type of therapy used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions. It involves talking to a trained therapist who can help you to look deeper into your problems and worries, and deal with troublesome patterns. Psychotherapy usually involves talking, but sometimes other methods may be used including art, music, drama and movement. Psychotherapy can help you discuss feelings you have about yourself and other people. Discussions in psychotherapy often touch on family and those close to you.


Due to the broad use of these latter two terms, the titles psychotherapist and counsellor are often used interchangeably. Psychotherapy and counselling are also terms that are used to refer to talking therapies in general and the many different psychotherapeutic approaches which include Humanistic, Existential, Psychodynamic and Psychoanalytic, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) etc

A psychologist, counsellor or psychotherapist doesn’t typically give you advice or tell you what to do but will guide you towards better approaches to lifestyle, health, emotional wellbeing, relationships and dealing with problems.

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