What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a psychotherapist?

Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn’t it?  When I was at Oxford there was an engineering joke that went around: ‘What’s the difference between a mechanical engineer and a civil engineer?  A mechanical engineer makes weapons, a civil engineer makes targets.’  (Boom, boom!)  Can anyone suggest a suitable punch line for this one?

In the mean time I’ll do my best to answer the question.  The short (and somewhat flippant) answer is:

  • If you want a theory that explains the way you are then consult a psychologist,
  • If you want drugs to make you feel better about the way you are then consult a psychiatrist,
  • If you want to transform the way you are then consult a psychotherapist.

The following information is based on definitions from the UKCP website:

  • All 3 work with people who have emotional or mental difficulties
  • All 3 work both in the private sector and in the NHS
  • All 3 have had extensive training, and should be members of the relevant professional body

Psychology

A Psychologist is a general term for someone who has studied psychology, usually to degree level or beyond.  Psychologists have observed and measured human behaviour scientifically and have produced models and therapies based on this knowledge.  There are a number of different branches of psychology including Occupational Psychology, Forensic (Criminal) Psychology, and Educational Psychology, amongst others.  A Clinical Psychologist or a Counselling Psychologist will have done further training (often to a doctorate level) to be able to administer psychological tests (personality tests, intelligence tests, etc.) and to be able to treat people with emotional or behavioural difficulties.  For further information, go to the British Psychological Society web site.

Psychiatry

A Psychiatrist works within a medical framework and so will have trained as a medical doctor first and then specialised in psychiatry.  Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental illnesses and disorders.  Only psychiatrists and medical doctors can prescribe medications. For further information, go to the Royal College of Psychiatrists web site.

Psychotherapy

A UKCP Psychotherapist (I am one of these) has had a four-year, post-graduate, in-depth and experiential training in how to work with a variety of people with a wide range of emotional and mental difficulties.  Psychotherapists are trained in one or more of the different modalities (ways of working).  For further information, please explore the UKCP web site.

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About Richard Evans-Lacey

Richard Evans-Lacey offers NLP and Hypnosis (Hypnotherapy) based Psychotherapy in Bethnal Green, East London, E1. Call 020 7377 1918 for a free chat.
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