What is the difference between a Psychiatrist, a Clinical
Psychologist and a Psychotherapist?
psychologists and psychotherapists have all
been professionally trained to help people with
psychological distress or mental illness.
Psychiatry is a medical
speciality, like general practice, surgery, general medicine
or paediatrics. You have to train for 5 years as a doctor and
in the UK – like every other medical specialty - do 2 further years
of “Foundation” jobs in hospitals before you can start to
specialise in psychiatry. It usually takes another 4 years to pass
the two professional exams of the Royal College of Psychiatrists,
after which you can specialise further.
Like other areas of medicine,
psychiatry builds its knowledge through the observation of unusual
and distressing conditions. It uses a diagnostic system, which
tries to identify clusters of thoughts, feelings and behaviours
that seem to occur together – or “syndromes”. These are then
investigated to find social, psychological and any physical causes,
with a view to finding effective ways of helping.
Psychiatrists work with
people of every age, but usually with people who have more severe
disorders, such a schizophrenia, that may require some sort of
medical treatment. This often, but not always, involves the
prescription of medication. A psychiatrist can take into account
psychological and social factors and will tailor any treatment
plan according to the needs of the individual.
A Clinical Psychologist will
have gained a degree in psychology at university. After gaining
further experience working in relevant healthcare settings,
Clinical Psychologists then do 3 years Doctorate clinical training
in an approved training scheme at university. During this
time they work with patients under supervision from
experienced psychologists and study for an academic doctorate as
well as their first degree. They complete training placements with
adults, children, older adults and people with learning
They are trained to work in
NHS settings using several models of psychological therapy (usually
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy plus at least one other model eg
psychodynamic/systemic) and to work consultatively in the NHS
organisation. They learn also research methods and skills in
Psychology has historically
applied a more formal experimental approach to exploring both
normal and abnormal states of mind, with the emphasis more on
clarifying psychological mechanisms rather than physiological
In their daily work, clinical
psychologists will work psychologically with a wide range of
problems and client groups – from eating disorders to schizophrenia
and dementia. Most clinical psychologists will specialise in
a particular type of assessment or therapy, such as cognitive
behavioural therapy or neuropsychology.
A psychotherapist can come
from any professional background, including medicine and psychology
– or none. However, a psychotherapy training is usually quite
separate from either of these disciplines.
There are a number of
different types of psychotherapy that can be found today, all of
which have different theories of how the mind works and associated
methods of intervention. Different therapies suit different people
– and different problems. The most common is probably cognitive
behavioural therapy (CBT). In CBT, the therapist helps a client to
look at and change any unhelpful ways of thinking that may be
interfering with their life.
therapy looks more at the importance of early relationships and how
these templates affect a person's behaviour in the present.
Counselling emphasises the
individual's ability to clarify their problems and arrive at their
A psychotherapist can work
one-to-one with individuals or with groups of people with a similar
problem. Individual meetings can take place once every week or two,
as in CBT, or up to 5 times a week with psychoanalytic therapy.
British Association for Counselling and
Tel: 01455 883316
A member group for counsellors and psychotherapists. The site
offers a training directory, information on finding a therapist,
and information about the organisation itself. There are also
sections on professionalism and ethics.
Tel: 020 7561 9240
The BPC is a professional association,
representing the profession of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic
Tel: 0116 254 9568
This site offers information about training as a psychologist, how
to find a psychologist, and career development events. In addition,
there is some recent research on psychological topics, and an FAQ
section about the Society and psychology in general.
the differences between psychology, psychiatry and
psychotherapy? (the NHS website)