The Difference Between various ‘psych’ related professionals

0.0 Introduction
0.25 What is a Psychiatrist?
1.12 What is a Psychologist?
2.31 What is a Psychotherapist?
3.40 Psychotherapists and research
3.57 Counselling aspects
4.38 Integrative counselling
5.18 Summary

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Hello, Alan Patching here with another post for Transforming Minds.

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is what’s the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist and a psychotherapist? And it’s an interesting question, so I’m going to answer it for you here today. It’ll particularly be of interest for people who are seeking help with regards some of the challenges they’re facing in life.

Let’s start at the top of the tree. A psychiatrist is a medically trained person whose done their basic medical training to become a GP with all the residency and internship etc. associated with that ,and just like any other specialist, went on to do further courses of study in a field, a ‘specialty’.

So in the same way as an obstetrician has years of studying the birth of babies etc. A psychiatrist spends years learning about the depths of the functioning of the brain and the diseases associated with the brain etc.

Now a psychiatrist is different in Australia from the others (psychologise and psychotherapist) in that a psychiatrist has the authority and the right to prescribe drugs for mental illnesses etc. So the psychiatrist in all respect is a fully trained doctor with additional study and qualifications in his or her specialty.

A psychologist is someone who’s gone to university and studied specifically- could be in various fields in psychology – but typically in the therapeutic field we are looking at clinical psychology… would have studied the field of research into that field in particular, and in terms of interventions for people with illnesses and anxieties etc. they would study Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Now post training, they may do some other training in various other associated skills of therapy. However, in Australia, they do not have the right to prescribe medication. In America that’s different for some states but in Australia they do not have the right to prescribe medication.

Now a psychologist might be someone who a doctor refers you to under a mental health scheme or whatever, for a government because you need assistance, for a problem requiring counselling, or in particular to receive CBT work. Now, regarding psychologists in Australia, there are accreditations via the Australian Psychologists Association and they also set, to a larger degree, the standards to be achieved by universities educating these people.

Now, in the field of psychotherapy it broadens out a bit. Most psychiatrists would be trained in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be eclectic or integrative. Eclectic means the practitioner would operate using a range of different techniques, not just Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. For example, Gestalt therapy some form of Rogerian counselling or Gestalt counselling. Maybe some techniques from each of these fields such as Empty Chair Technique.

A range of different possibilities come into the field of integrative counselling. And they could be either humanistic in style, or they could be more what we call psychodynamic. Humanistic being more in the moment and dealing with past problems by attitudes and by attitudes and behaviours today, whereas psychodynamic might be looking at things from the past and reframing the way you look at those things now that you are an older person than you were when the experience occurred.

So these are the sort of aspects of psychotherapy that are broader than psychology. Psychotherapists are traditionally not involved in a lot of research as psychologists often are, but that’s changing particularly in England where psychotherapists are beginning to do some very good qualitative research in particular.

So that covers the three of them. Now, all of them get involved in counselling to some extent. But probably the most astute or the most experienced counselling generally would be the psychotherapist because they can use counselling skills in line with a range of other interventions from the psychotherapeutic world.

Now, where a psychotherapist uses one particular skill at a time with a client, then that is what we call eclectic. They have the skills in Cognitive Behavioural work, in Gestalt counselling, In Rogerian counselling, etc. as the moment dictates or suggests would be the best approach. Now, in integrative counselling they mix these things up and as they become more experienced they make their own combinations if you like. Brian Houston wrote a book once saying that for a really experienced integrated counsellor, it’s very difficult to see where one technique is finishing and another technique is starting because they have blurred the lines in almost constantly regenerating new approaches …. and it’s all very much client based.

As Richard Bandler would say from the world of NLP. He’d say basically ‘use what works’, and that’s very much the approach of the integrative psychotherapist.

So there you have it! All of them have a place in the therapy world. The psychiatrist is the medical person, prescribing drugs helping people deal with their diseases.

More for neuroses etc. the psychologist and the psychotherapist. Which one you prefer in Australia gets down to two questions: the psychotherapist generally would not be a counsellor as widely covered on health schemes, particularly government health schemes as the psychologist, that simply doesn’t mean that one’s better than the other, it just means a psychologists are lobbying the government a lot better. But more on that in future posts. A psychiatrist for drugs, you need to be referred; the psychologist, counselling using CBT in particular and psychotherapist using a broader range of skills from the counselling lexicon.

I hope this has been helpful in letting you understand the differences between the terms and to put it, I guess bluntly, there are no clear boundaries. Most good psychologists are going to use integrative counselling and various forms of psychotherapy as well. The boundaries are blurred a lot, except when it comes to the drug prescription – which is strictly dealt by the doctors.

Hope it helps, I look forward to seeing you on a future post, I’m Alan Patching, see you soon.

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