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What’s the real difference between a psychotherapist, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist?

March 1, 2019 • read

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What’s the real difference between a psychotherapist, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist?

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being progressive,  so why is mental health still so stigmatized? It’s because of this stigma that many of us who have mental health issues are reluctant to get help.

We’ll drive to a dermatologist for a skin infection or walk to a gynecologist for uterine problems. But a mental health practitioner? Forget it. Plus, deciding between a psychologist or a psychiatrist can be so frustrating that we give up altogether. But knowing the difference can mean a quicker recovery. They’re more than just chatty doctors with comfy sofas and strong pills. 

In the spirit of openness, let’s start  demystifying some of the types of therapists in the evolving world of mental healthcare to help us figure out who can provide the care we need.

Who are psychotherapists?

Psychotherapists are mental health professionals who have specialized training in talk therapy. This is an all-encompassing term for those who help people deal with stress, anxiety, and other emotional problems through therapy. Psychotherapists include psychologists, psychoanalysts, and some psychiatrists. Each one of these has a different degree and focus, so we’ll discuss all three later.

Who are counsellors?

Counsellors provide therapy, counselling, or advice in a specific field of focus. They can specialize in different areas like relationships, careers, families, general mental health, or education counselling. Typically, people visit counsellors to seek specific advice or for help solving problems or making important decisions in life.

Who are psychoanalysts?

Psychoanalysts use a very specific method of treatment and therapy. They focus on alleviating symptoms, but also delve into the root causes of psychological problems. These are the professionals most often associated with the stereotypical couch scenario, as well as the Freudian model, which involves releasing emotions and free association. Psychoanalysts are unable to do psychological testing, cannot prescribe medications, and are usually best for treating conditions like childhood trauma.

Who are psychologists?

Psychologists are professionals who study psychology. Most conduct research and have a PHD in psychology. Clinical psychologists, in particular, hold a doctoral degree in psychology — a PsyD. They focus on testing (like IQ testing) and specialized types of therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for addressing mental health issues. Despite their doctoral degree, they are not medical doctors, and so they’re unable to prescribe medications. If you feel that you have a mental disorder that requires treatment beyond talk therapy but not medication, see a clinical psychologist.

Who are psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists?

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals with a doctorate in medicine (an MD). While some do provide talk therapy, they usually focus on the medical side of mental illness by prescribing medications. Similarly, psychopharmacologists specialize in medications for psychological concerns and are considered psychiatric pharmacists.

Who are social workers?

Social Workers design programs and services that help address the psychological problems of individuals within our society. If they have a private practice, they can also design treatments or develop welfare plans for individuals. They are not involved with any psychological testing however and focus on the social environment as the cause of the individual’s problems. Social workers can have an individual practice or can work in community hospitals or outreach programs.

Being a little more educated about different types of mental health professionals can make seeking help a little less intimidating.  

Get help today.

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