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


In this article I explain what a psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist are and who is responsible for what issues.

Table of contents

Psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist - it's all the same, right? No, because there are important differences that you need to be aware of. In this article I explain what these titles are and who is responsible for which issues.

Anyone suffering from mental health problems should not be afraid to seek professional help. If you start researching a suitable therapy offer, you will come across three terms in particular that can cause confusion: psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist. Sure, all three have something to do with the psyche, but what's the difference? And who is the right contact person and when?

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

The psychologist

In our day-to-day usage, the term “going to the psychologist” is most commonly used in connection with psychological treatment. But if you take it exactly, this of all things has the least to do with psychotherapy.

In principle, anyone who has successfully completed a degree in psychology can call themselves a psychologist. Psychologists often also work in the private sector, for example in the advertising industry, in counseling centers or as health care experts.

After their studies, they are not allowed to treat mental illnesses without further ado.

The psychotherapist

A psychological psychotherapist is a trained psychologist who has then completed at least a three-year additional psychotherapeutic qualification. This means that he can finally apply for a license to practice medicine, i.e. for state approval to practice a medical profession. This entitles him to offer qualified psychotherapy (e.g. behavioral therapy) and to treat patients.

The psychiatrist

The psychiatrist is ultimately the only "real" doctor among the three. More precisely, a qualified doctor who has also completed specialist training in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

The focus of his work is primarily the making of a medical diagnosis, the treatment and research of mental illnesses. In contrast to the psychotherapist, the psychiatrist is also authorized to prescribe psychotropic drugs, i.e. drugs that affect the psyche, to patients as part of their therapy.

Psychotherapist or psychiatrist – who is the right contact person?

The question of whether you should see a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist for your specific problem is always an individual question and cannot be answered in a general way. However, a psychotherapist will primarily address the causes of the psychological symptoms and will usually focus on changing the patient's behavior.

A psychiatrist, on the other hand, will examine your symptoms primarily from a medical point of view and, depending on the situation, may also prescribe medication.

Beware of providers without real qualifications!

If you are looking for psychological help, you may find that it is not always easy. Many licensed psychotherapists and psychiatrists have long waiting lists due to a lack of treatment capacity.

You should be particularly careful here, because unqualified "treatment providers" like to try to take advantage of this need. They offer psychotherapeutic services, but without being able to show evidence of a relevant degree or further training. This is because the term "psychotherapy" is not legally protected and can therefore be used by anyone, even if they are not a trained therapist.

You are on the safe side if you are specifically looking for a psychotherapist or a specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy. These titles are protected designations. If in doubt, ask the therapist about his or her qualifications beforehand. The health insurance companies can also help you here, as they usually have lists of approved psychotherapists and psychiatrists.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative, I have no authority to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. I invite you to visit a psychologist to treat your particular case.