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How is a psychotherapist different from a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counsellor, or a coach?

Although psychotherapeutic techniques can be used by different types of therapists, there are some who do not use them. There are so many different types of mental health professionals in the helping industry, and some overlap in their specialties, while some are very different from one another. In finding out how to select the right type of practitioner for our situation, it helps to know what the differences are between them.

**It is important to note here that this is a discussion for the purposes of providing a brief overview, and I have not gone into much detail. This article does not substitute professional or clinical advice in selecting which type of professional to go to for your situation.

Coaches, nurses, counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, doctors…there are many to choose from.

Coaches generally are not qualified in psychotherapeutic techniques for ‘clinical’ problems. Coaching can help people work towards goals and can use some techniques to help remove blockers. Usually, coaching is in context with goals and behaviours associated with profession or other ‘non-clinical’ problems. Often coaches refer clients out to a therapist for more clinically related problems.

Nurses do counsel their patients, and generally this is within scope of their role within the medical field, yet, mental health clinical requirements can mean they also work in partnership with other therapists for their patient’s journey to wellness.

Professional counsellors provide clients/patients with guidance through the process of talking about and working through their personal problems which could relate to relationships, finances, career, domestic violence, addictions, and trauma. They are well versed in therapeutic communication with a strong accent on really listening to their client/patient. Counselling is a skill which most mental health professionals have some experience and training in, yet a professional counsellor focuses on it as a method and can utilise different techniques. This leads on to other mental health professions too, since other therapists can utilise counselling with their specialties. For example: a psychologist, a psychotherapist, a psychiatrist and a doctor.

A psychotherapist is a qualified practitioner, who has trained in specific psychotherapeutic techniques. In a previous post, we covered there are a few main categories of psychotherapy and to add to that, there are many styles of psychotherapy which fit within these main categories. I’m not sure the actual figure has really been agreed upon. Through my own research, I have developed the view that there are a few categories, with some sub-categories, then within the sub-categories there are hundreds of types of effective specific techniques. This means that a range of different mental health industry professionals can qualify and practise in the techniques which relate to their niche, or area of expertise.

A psychologist is another expert in psychology, specialising in a niche area usually. They study mental and emotional states, cognitive, behavioural and perceptual processes.

Psychologists can work individually, with organisations, institutions like prison and schools or with sports teams. They generally do not prescribe medication (there may be some exceptions to this), but they can counsel, use psychotherapeutic techniques, do psychological assessments and interpret the data to produce reports.

A psychiatrist is a physician, or a medical doctor (with a specialty in psychiatry) who uses pharmacologic, psychotherapeutic approaches to treat mental disorders. They have in-depth training in the bio-psycho-social approach to the management of mental illnesses and usually assess patients’ mental wellbeing through their private practise or in clinical settings like a hospital, for example.

With so many different types of mental health professionals to explore, it is worth looking into the different modalities further. Your circumstances will make the difference in which type of modality is best for you.

In my next post, I will be explaining what evidence-based therapy means.



These articles are not to replace a licensed therapist’s advice, or to influence any choices in where one gets therapy, who with and at which time of an experience. The posts are simply designed to help people find out what they might like to look further into regarding the psychotherapy industry. The reader is responsible for their own decisions, actions and behaviour, and further exploration on topics is recommended before making any decisions related to the details in the posts. These articles are designed to be at a superficial level of discussion. In compiling the articles, we have attempted to keep triggering material to a minimum, yet we cannot guarantee that readers will be comfortable when reading posts at all times. If you are experiencing any type of discomfort while reading any of the posts, please consider if you need some support.