What's the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychotherapist?

Medically Reviewed on 12/30/2021
what exactly does a psychotherapist do?
A psychotherapist includes all professionals who deal with mental health problems or emotional issues, whereas a therapist provides therapy solutions in various fields.

A psychotherapist is a broader term that includes all professionals who deal with the management of mental health problems or emotional issues. A psychotherapist can be a clinical psychologist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

A therapist is someone who provides professional therapy solutions usually in various fields including mental and physical health.

In a society where there are numerous treatment options, it can be difficult to decide if a person is not well-versed in what each professional does.

Learn the fundamental distinctions between a therapist and a psychotherapist.


  • Depending on their education and specialty, therapists treat a variety of patient concerns, issues, and categories.
  • Marriage and family therapists, for example, specialize in assisting people to manage their interpersonal relationships.
  • They use their advanced communication skills and psychology knowledge to assist clients to express their emotions and share their experiences in a safe environment.
  • This can assist clients to replace negative thoughts and feelings with a positive attitude that can positively impact the future of their relationships.
  • Mental health counselors help people who are struggling with mental, behavioral, or addiction issues.
  • Other types of therapy are less concerned with interpersonal communication and more concerned with physical treatment.
    • Occupational therapists, for example, assist people with disabilities recover and improving skills that may have been hampered by their disabilities.
  • A bachelor's degree in a specific therapy concentration is sufficient to enter this field, but many therapists find greater career opportunities after completing a master's degree and earning additional certifications.
    • Depending on the nature of the position, a state-issued license may be required.
  • Another type of therapy specialist is a physical therapist.
    • They use their extensive knowledge of human physiology to assist people with injuries or disabilities improve their body's strength and mobility through rehabilitation techniques.
  • Because this is a highly specialized field, the only way to become licensed and start practicing is to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.
  • Therapists in these fields are inherently focused on treating a narrow range of problems.
  • They may be experts at certain tasks, such as assisting clients repair relationships or increase physical strength, but they are typically not equipped to provide services other than mental or physical therapy.


  • The psychotherapist has the same training and experience as a psychologist.
    • They are required by their state of practice to have additional degrees, training, and licensing.
  • Psychotherapists do not have the authority to prescribe medication, but they can assess whether a person would benefit from seeing a psychiatrist.
  • Psychotherapists diagnose and treat their patients using a "whole picture" approach, considering their upbringing, environment, and any underlying conditions.
  • Psychotherapists frequently have extensive training and experience in fields, such as social work, mental health counseling, and marriage and family therapy.
  • Working with a psychotherapist will most likely require a person to meet with them one to two times a week.
  • This can last anywhere from a few months to a few years, and many people choose to work with their therapists for an extended period.

What is the difference between psychiatry and psychology?

The following are the primary distinctions between psychiatry and psychology:


  • It is the medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders.
  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who attend four years of medical school before spending at least five years in residency training learning about the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.
  • Many psychiatrists then continue their education to become certified in areas of specialization, such as child and adolescent, geriatric, and addiction psychiatry.
  • Psychiatrists are the only mental health practitioners in most states who can prescribe medication for mental health disorders.
  • Psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are treatment modalities that psychiatrists use.


  • It is the study of thought, behavior, emotion, and other factors that help gain an understanding of self, people’s actions, and one another.
  • Psychologists are frequently doctors, but they are not medical doctors.
    • Instead, they may hold a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy, usually focused on research) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology, usually with a clinical focus).
  • A psychologist must have a master’s and a doctorate in psychology.
  • Their studies of biological, cognitive, and social influences on behavior, as well as training in psychological assessment and diagnosis, are part of their curriculum.
  • Practicing psychologists employ various therapeutic modalities to assist patients to deal with stress, heal from trauma, and managing the symptoms of mental health disorders.


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Should you see a psychologist or psychiatrist first?

Seeking help for those who are struggling with their mental health is an important step toward living a full and meaningful life. However, determining which type of practitioner will provide the most effective treatment is not always straightforward.

Experienced mental health professionals have the necessary training and knowledge to assist clients to make an informed decision about the course of their treatment. Patients are frequently referred to psychiatrists and psychologists.

However, in general, here are some things to think about before deciding whether to see a psychologist or psychiatrist first.

  • A psychologist may be a good fit if a person wants to spend time talking about and working through an issue in a one-on-one setting.
  • If a person wants to pursue psychiatric medication for symptom relief from a mental health disorder, they should first consult with a psychiatrist.
  • If the issue a person wants to address is one of the relationships, such as a problem at work or with a family member, a psychologist may be able to help.
  • A psychiatrist may be a good place to start if a person is experiencing debilitating mental health symptoms that are interfering with their daily life.

Psychiatrists and psychologists, as previously stated, are both concerned with assisting people to optimize their mental wellness, and both are frequently trained in a variety of treatment modalities.

The best place to begin is with a practitioner with whom a person feels at ease. They will listen to the patient’s purpose, assess their symptoms, consider their medical, psychiatric, and family history, and assist the person to decide the next step.

Also, keep in mind that many people visit more than one mental health practitioner before finding the best fit.

Medically Reviewed on 12/30/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

Wallace J. What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist. Psychreg. https://www.psychreg.org/difference-between-psychologist-psychotherapist/

American Psychological Association. What Is the Difference Between Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Social Workers? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/psychotherapy-professionals

Just Mind. Therapists & psychologists. https://justmind.org/what-is-the-difference-between-a-therapist-and-psychologist/