One of the most commonly asked questions we get asked is what is the difference between a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and a Counsellor.
People are often understandably confused about what these titles really mean and given these aren’t the only mental health professionals out there (there are also CBT therapists, specialist mental health nurse therapists, psychodynamic psychotherapists to name just a few more) it is not surprising that even professionals themselves can get lost in the sea of professional titles.
The commonality is that all these professions are geared around trying to help people move towards psychological health and resilience.
What is a Psychologist?
One of the key differences is the training route people have taken. For example, Psychiatrists will have undertaken medical training (like a doctor) and then specialised in Psychiatry and may or may not offer talking therapy as they primarily focus on diagnostic assessment and medication.
Psychologists will have an undergraduate degree in Psychology and then further postgraduate training (usually at masters or doctorate level) in applied psychology (training that enables them to work in the field of psychology). Psychotherapists and Counsellors are usually trained at diploma or degree level although may also have undertaken masters or doctorate level study and are not required to have a background in Psychology.
So navigating the differences between these professions is complex and we thought the helpful thing to do would be to explain a little more about the profession of Psychology…
What is a Psychologist?
A Psychologist is someone who specialises in understanding the human mind and behaviour. Most people in the UK start their psychology career by doing a 3 or 4 year undergraduate psychology degree recognised by the British Psychological Society. A B.Sc or BA honours in Psychology does not train you in applied psychology or therapy, instead it gives you a strong foundational understanding of the human mind and human behaviour including cognitive, social, developmental, biological and research psychology. This helps develop a deep understanding about what it means to be a human being.
Having completed an undergraduate psychology degree, some chose to do further training within the field of applied psychology (and there are many types of applied psychology including Occupational Psychology, Health Psychology, Educational Psychology, Sports and Exercise Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology and Counselling Psychology).
This usually requires another 2-3 years of study either at masters or doctorate (PsychD) level and only after completing this training can above titles be used. Most psychologists working in private psychological therapy practices are Clinical or Counselling Psychologists and many of these professionals will also have experience working in other settings such as the NHS or private hospitals, as this case with all of us working at The Psychology Company.
Many Psychologists will also go on to specialise in certain areas after completing their postgraduate training. For example, many of us at The Psychology Company have specialised in working with people with Personality Disorder diagnosis and therapeutically have specialised in Schema therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy. Other areas of specialism within our service include adult autism assessments, physical health, forensic risk assessment and mindfulness meditation.
Psychologists and Evidence Based Therapy
Psychologists (regardless of the specific title) often consider themselves scientist practitioners which means they are informed by science, take a keen interest in evidence -based therapy and draw upon the latest research to inform their therapeutic work.
Furthermore, Psychologists are trained in assessment and formulation skills which means they will work with clients to develop a thorough understanding of what brings them to therapy and help a client make sense of themselves in a psychologically informed, rich and meaningful way. Finally, Psychologists are often trained in more than one therapeutic approach (like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or Schema Therapy) so can tailor their therapeutic approach to best suit the client.
Choosing the right help for you
Whoever you chose to work with on your journey of healing and growth, the most important thing is that the professional you choose has the skills and experience to work with whatever is bringing you to therapy. Sitting alongside this is the importance of finding someone you have a good connection with and feel safe and comfortable working with.
Written by Dr. Olivia Thrift – registered Counselling Psychologist and founder of The Psychology Company.