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  • Writer's picturePersephone Protouli


This is a question I get asked very often, what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Bare with me while I attempt to describe the differences in education and application.

First of all, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor. Psychiatrists are trained in general medicine. After earning an MD, they practice four years of residency training in psychiatry. Their experience typically involves working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital with a variety of patients, from children and adolescents with behavior disorders to adults with severe cases of mental illness. 

 "Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in psychiatry." 

For a psychologist, degrees are available at all levels (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate). Advanced degrees and licensing are required for those who offer patient care, including clinical, counseling and school psychologists. Throughout their education, psychologists study personality development, the history of psychological problems and the science of psychological research. Graduate school provides rigorous preparation for a career in psychology by teaching students how to diagnose mental and emotional disorders in varying situations. 

"A psychologist is a social scientist who is trained to study human behavior and mental processes."


There are many different kinds of psychologists, and clinical or counseling psychologists are two of them. Clinical psychology is a psychological specialty that is concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness and behavioral problems for individuals and families, while Counseling psychology focuses on how people function both personally and in their relationships. Typically psychologists are described as being applied or research oriented.

Even further,

A therapist is someone that specializes in a specific kind of therapy, for example psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy, systemic therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. A requirement for becoming a certified therapist is having a high level University degree on a relevant subject, such as psychology, psychiatry or social work. It is a post- graduate specialization in a specific form of therapy that typically lasts three to four years, containing intensive personal therapy, supervision and intervision, seeing clients and requiring theoretical and practical knowledge.

For Europe, there is the European Association of Psychotherapy, which represents high training standards for a scientifically based and independent practice of psychotherapy. Make sure that your Therapist was trained in an institution that was EAP accredited.

A coach or "life coach", generally only has a brief training of 6 months or a year and typically works with clients on improving their life skills, such as weight loss or career change, but they are not credentialed to treat mental health or relationship challenges. These days, almost any body can call themselves a coach, so it is important to see if your coach is accredited by the International Coach Federation or a similar recognized association. 

What do I care? Before you start seeing somebody, do look into their credentials; check if your psychologist has been specialized by obtaining at the least a Masters of Science, or even better if they have an additional specialization as a Therapist.

If they do, take the time to look into what kind of therapy they do and if it suits your personal style. And don;t worry, when you first visit a psychologist, he or she will refer you to a psychiatrist if they believe you could be aided by medication. They are qualified to know when that is needed.

Finding the right person to help you is important, and when it comes to your mental health you want to make sure you are in good hands.

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