The Difference Between Psychotherapists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists

Christopher Lemercier

I find that many people are curious to know what differentiates a psychotherapist, psychologist and psychiatrists, and in this article, we will answer this question. All are equally exciting professions and, in some ways, are interrelated. As a psychotherapist, I must mention that none of these professions are better than the other, and each has its high levels of qualification, merits and the types of people that would seek each one out.

Now lets begin…

What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, who can diagnose patients, prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management (finding the right medications, psychological assessments, diagnosing patients) as a course of treatment. Psychiatrists provide talk therapy to their patients to ensure that they feel well on the medication dosages and that the medication is working for them.

Christina Victoria Craft

Patients also often discuss their everyday struggles with psychiatrists but the focus of this type of therapy is mainly on the use of psychotropic medication. People often only seek out psychiatrists for diagnosis and medication needs. Psychiatrists can work both in private practice, in mental health clinics or hospitals. These are the only types of therapists that are legally able to prescribe medication and is the only medical doctor. Psychiatrists can work with any age from children to the elderly and traditionally work one on one with patients, but sometimes incorporate family therapy or couples therapy where necessary.

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is someone who has graduated with Ph.D. from a faculty of psychology and deals, in general, with the study of the human mind, including:

  • Normal/abnormal mental states
  • Perceptual processes
  • Cognitive processes
  • Emotional processes
  • Social processes
  • Observing, interpreting and recording the study of individuals and how they relate to one another and their environment
Brooke Cagle

This field is far too vast, so psychologists usually specialize in various branches: psychopathology, behavioural, social, educational, etc. Psychologists are doctors but not medical doctors and can diagnose and assess patients but not able to prescribe medications.

Their study of work can sometimes include psychotherapy (talk therapy). Some psychologists work in private practice, hospitals, clinics, schools, correctional facilities, etc. Psychologists are more focused on extensive research or teaching in universities rather than working directly with clients. Psychologists can work with various ages and can work with individuals, groups, families and larger organizations.

What is a psychotherapist?

Psychotherapists have a Master’s degree and are registered through a college in their appropriate region for the ability to hold the title “psychotherapist.” In Ontario, the CRPO (College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario) is responsible for regulating the field of psychotherapy to ensure safe practice, ethics and laws of practicing are all to the highest and safest standard. Psychotherapists are not able to prescribe any medications.

Psychotherapists can help clients: 

  • Resolve some emotional difficulties
  • Modify certain aspects that make them vulnerable
  • Achieve self-actualization
  • Improve mood
  • Understand that they can do something to improve their situation
  • Improve quality of life
  • Enhance healthy behaviour
  • Help integrate trauma
  • Improve relationships
  • Work thorough family/spousal challenges
  • Think more positively
  • Express themselves
  • Much more
Toa Heftiba

I view a psychotherapist’s job is somewhat like hiring a person for advice, support, validation, and help through difficult times. Psychotherapists are trained to deal with various issues, and many specialize in their approaches to therapy and the populations they work with.

By hiring a psychotherapist, you will hopefully feel like you have someone who understands you, listens to you, holds space for you and supports you, kind of like a good friend. Please don’t confuse the apparent boundaries of practicing and how we are not a client’s friend as a therapist.

Psychotherapists aren’t trained or able to diagnose clients or patients and are only allowed to speculate or name the symptoms you are experiencing and help you treat them. They can treat people with a wide range of diagnoses and people of all ages with many different mental and physical health challenges.

All of these mental health professionals are equally talented in their professions. While they are similar professions, they are all very unique and provide different supports for different people in their individual life challenges.

Now that we know the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists:

My name is Loren, and I am a psychotherapist. Want to work together? I work with adults: both individuals and couples!

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