The Different Roles of Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Psychotherapists, and Counselors

Mental health is a complex issue. People working in this field include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors. All are experts in their own field but only one or two are qualified to help you. The trick is finding that right professional for the job. You also need to understand a lot of medical terminologies before even starting your search.

Talking to the right one is crucial. Sometimes mental health issues have become too complex that two or more professionals from various fields are needed. These include:

  • Psychotherapist
  • Counselor
  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist

To know which professional might be the right choice for you, here is a guide that can help.


What is a Psychotherapist?

Psychotherapists are professionals who use therapies and other related methods. There are no legal restrictions on the use of the title. But only medical professional bodies such as the UKCP can issue the title of “registered psychotherapist” to qualified practitioners. Interested clients would need to verify the psychotherapist’s legal credential before proceeding. Most if not all registered psychotherapists are also psychiatrists.

The therapy usually involves having a one-on-one talk with a client.  These sessions are typically regular weekly meetings. Through these sessions, the psychotherapist will uncover the root cause of the problem. From there, a possible solution or some plan of action is proposed. Most of the issues involved range from emotional difficulties to psychiatric disorders.

Psychotherapists have a variety of methods in exploring and understanding how their clients feel. They can also work with individuals, couples or groups such as families. Psychotherapists can also teach their clients how to manage their emotional difficulties. For more difficult cases like psychosis, the psychotherapists usually work in tandem with a psychiatrist.

Just like psychiatry, psychotherapists can specialize in one or several types of therapy. These include:

  • Arts Therapy – Client creates and uses art as a form of therapy
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy – Deals with the client’s way of thinking and behaviour
  • Humanistic Therapy – Client uses self-development and growth as a form therapy.
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy – Uses past experiences to change the client’s present condition.
  • Other Therapies – All forms of therapy not included in the other categories, group therapies and mindfulness.

As you can see, there are a variety of therapies available. You need to do your own research to find out which kind of therapy is the most suitable. Every psychotherapist has different training and specialties. Our professional body can help you find the registered or accredited psychotherapist for you.

Psychotherapist – Important Distinction

  1. Psychotherapists use therapy to solve their client’s emotional and psychological problems.
  2. They can work on their own or within a team of other medical professionals.
  3. Psychotherapists have the option of specializing in a specific form of therapy such as art therapy.
  4. They can also conduct solo, couple or family sessions.


What is a Counselor?

Counselors make use of psychotherapy to help clients facing mental health problems. Practitioners usually use the title of psychotherapist or counselor. These can cause confusion as both professions seem to have overlapping functions. Many are also getting the same training as psychotherapists. This is also the reason why they can also refer to themselves as psychotherapists.

Overlap Between Counselors and Psychotherapists

Experts are divided if there’s actually any difference between the two professions. Some point out that psychotherapists are focused on mental health issues that have longer and lingering effects. Many psychotherapists are also psychiatrists and medical doctors.  Such could not be said among many counselors.

How Counselors Work

Counselors usually conduct individual, couple or group meetings. The session is private and confidential and allows clients to talk freely about their feelings and anxieties. The counselor can use some form psychotherapy at his discretion. Otherwise, the session proceeds without any kind of structure or meeting agenda.

Trust Issues

Counselors and psychotherapists need to develop a trusting relationship with their clients. They need to set the mood and environment to make it so. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your counselor, you can inform him or her in the next session. You could also choose to speak to a different counselor.

Counselling covers a lot of areas. These are the most common issues they tackle:

  • Abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Bereavement
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorder
  • Family Issues
  • Low Self-confidence or Low Self-esteem
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Work-related Issues

Kinds of Counselling

There are various kinds of counselling and these include:

  1. Face-to-face and individual counselling – Clients are given the chance to speak to their counselors alone and in private.
  2. Group Counselling – This involves a group of people talking about a similar experience they have trouble coping with. This can involve the death of a loved one or some other tragedy. In this session, the counselor acts as the facilitator.
  3. Couples Counselling – These usually involves married couples having problem/s in their relationship. The counselor helps them explore the root cause of their problem, and in doing so find a solution that will improve their relationship.
  4. Family Counselling – This involves discussion between family members who are bickering over some issues. The Counselor guides them in finding the cause of their fighting and possible solutions.

In all these sessions, the Counselor will not instruct the clients on what they should do to overcome their emotional difficulties. Instead, he encourages and guides them in finding an amicable solution on their own.

Counselors – Important Distinction

  1. The title counselor has no legal restrictions in the UK. It is up to you to check their credentials.
  2. Counselors can work with a single client, couples, and groups.
  3. Counselors can conduct face-to-face sessions, or even thru email, phone or online platforms like Skype.
  4. Counselors encourage their clients to find the solutions themselves instead of telling them what to do.


What is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatry is a medical field that deals with mental disorders and psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in that field. Their service includes management, prevention, diagnosis, and research. Their discipline covers a broad area of expertise and research. It’s a medical specialty that takes more than 10 years to attain.

They have medical degrees that took them five years to complete. Afterwards, they have to complete some an internship for two years. Only then can they specialize in Psychiatry which takes another four years to complete. It will take them several more years if they wish to take further specializations.

Psychiatrists gather relevant data by observing various mental health conditions. This enables them to identify certain characteristics and behaviors which also serve as a basis for their diagnosis. If this behavior is common to a certain group of people, then it’s classified as a syndrome. They can then conduct further study to find out the root cause of the syndrome. The research can either find a cure or a way to help the patient.

Psychiatrists can handle patients of various ages. But the bulk of their patients are those with severe mental health condition that often requires medical intervention.

Psychiatry Sub-specialties

Psychiatrists are specialists in their field but they can further their studies in one or several sub-specialties. Once completed, they receive a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training or CCST. These sub-specialties include:

  • General Psychiatry
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Learning Disabilities Psychiatry
  • Old Age Psychiatry
  • Psychotherapy

Normally a doctor or another health care professional can recommend you to see a psychiatrist. But you can also set up an appointment to see one on your own.  They normally work alone or within a team of other health professionals like social workers or occupational therapists. Since psychiatrists are also medical doctors, they can prescribe medicines and carry out medical tests.

Psychiatrists – Important Distinction

  1. They are medical doctors who specialize in Psychiatry.
  2. Psychiatrists can further specialize their area of expertise such as learning Forensic Psychiatry or Psychotherapy.
  3. They are also authorized to conduct medical tests and examinations due to their medical background.
  4. They are allowed to prescribe medications based on the prevailing rules.

You can also go to our professional body page to look for any registered psychotherapists near your area.


What is a Psychologist?

Psychology is the study of how people behave, interact, and think. This discipline is focused on everyday activities like learning and remembering things. But it also studies other more complex mental health issues. Just like Psychiatry, this field also requires its practitioners to acquire a degree first.

Psychologists are classified into two categories, “applied” and “research oriented”.  The former uses practical approaches in helping their patients. The latter on the other hand, focuses on data gathering regarding the various mental health conditions. These include a variety of issues like trauma, relationship, and bereavement issues. Their research also tackles many serious issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Psychology degree holders can further hone their skills by pursuing a Doctorate in Counselling Psychology. It’s a new field where psychological research and theory are combined with therapeutic practices. Their role shares similarities with Counselors. Psychologists can also specialize in specific studies like CBT, neuropsychology and other kinds of assessment or therapy.

Restricted Psychology Titles

The UK medical professional body has restricted several psychology titles. This means that only ones certified by them are allowed to use the following titles:

  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Counselling Psychologist
  • Educational Psychologist
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Health Psychologist
  • Occupational Psychologist
  • Practitioner Psychologist
  • Registered Psychologist
  • Sports and Exercise Psychologist

Only the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has the legal power to grant these titles to the qualified professionals. To qualify, the psychologist must have the relevant training and adheres to the code of conduct.

Psychologists – Important Distinctions

  1. Psychologists deal in all matters related to the mind including behaviors and thought processes.
  2. The title Psychologist is not legally protected in the UK. But it connotes that the person got a degree in Psychology.
  3. Other titles such as Clinical Psychologist are legally protected by the law.
  4. Psychologists can either pursue a research-focused career or applied where they treat clients.

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