People who are looking for help sometimes stall out because they don’t know which kind of professional they should look to for help. If they have Problem X who do they turn to – a psychologist? A psychiatrist? Maybe a counsellor, or a therapist, or an analyst?

There is some overlap between the various professions. All are geared towards understanding and hopefully improving your mental state. I see many patients who report not knowing the difference, and therefore feel unsure about who they should see. Some patients think that all mental health professionals pretty much do the same thing, but there are significant differences, particularly in the level of training, and in how they operate day to day. Let’s have a look at some of these differences.

A psychiatrist is someone who has a Medical Degree, and has then gone on to specialise in mental health, they are highly trained medical practitioners. A psychiatrist will have worked as a doctor in general medicine and surgery for at least a year. He or she will then have had at least 6 more years of training in helping people with psychological problems. Psychiatrists specialise and develop skills in working with the particular problems that affect particular groups of people, adults, children, and older adults – leading to there are od specialism.

Psychiatrists assess a person’s state of mind, diagnose mental illness, explore the use of a range of medications to help a person recover, give psychological advice, as well as recommend specific psychological interventions, for which they may refer to a Clinical Psychologist.

The most well-known difference between psychiatrists and the other professions is that psychiatrists, being medical doctors, are able to prescribe medicine, whereas none of these other professionals we are talking about are able to do so. 

Clinical Psychologists
As described in an earlier post Clinical Psychologists start with a degree in psychology, then gain work experience as an Assistant Psychologist, working under the supervision of a senior Clinical Psychologist. Following this experience (which can be 2-4 years plus), they return to university for 3 years to complete their clinical training at Doctorate level. Clinical Psychologists with doctoral degrees have received one of the highest levels of education of all mental health care professionals, spending an average of nine years in education and training. 

Clinical Psychologists will acquire expertise in at least two psychological models, one of which is usually the Cognitive Behavioural model, others may include the Psychodynamic model, Psychoanalytic model, or the Systemic model. The type of therapeutic intervention offered to you, will depend on the evidence base for your particular problem. The types of interventions include:

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)

Integrative Therapy

Interpersonal Therapy

Mindfulness based CBT

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Clinical psychologists focus on strong evidence based assessments, they identify and diagnose mental health conditions, they formulate an understanding of psychological symptoms, and the relevant treatments. Clinical psychologists promote in depth explorations of a patient’s relationship with themselves, with people in their lives, and with the world as a whole to get to the root of social, psychological, emotional, and cognitive/neuropsychological problems.

We help you recognise and categorise recurring behaviour that is feeding into your psychological disability. We help you construct a real, solid plan with actual manageable steps that will help you break free from self-destructive cycles, to help reform you into the version of yourself that you want to be.

Counselors and Psychotherapists
The training for a counselors and therapists is much harder to nail down because the titles themselves are somewhat of a catch-all term. Currently, in the UK, there is no minimum level of qualification or training that needs to be reached in order for someone to practice as a counselor or psycho/therapist. This may change in the near future as counselling and psychotherapy become professions that are regulated by law. Although Counselors and Psychotherapists do receive training and certification, their training is not nearly as extensive as that which is undertaken by Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Psychoanalysts.

he Health Care Professions Council works to regulate health, psychological and social work professionals, in order to protect the public. The title ‘Clinical Psychologist’ is protected by law, anyone using a protected title must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. Counselors and psycho/therapists do not have protected titles, hence they are not registered with any regulating body.

I have dedicated an extra section here to Psychoanalysts. They are very different in the level of training and expertise they have, when compared with counselors, and psychotherapists, or other types of therapists.

Prior to being able to undertake psychoanalytic training they must have a graduate degree in humanities or sciences. They are also required to have clinical experience in the field of mental health, psychoanalyst often have a ‘core-profession’ like clinical psychology, psychiatry, social work, or mental health nursing. Before undertaking psychoanalytic training they are required to have been in analysis with an approved training analyst, four or five times a week for at least one year prior to starting the training, and are required to continue at least four/five times weekly throughout their Training. The training is four years, and many psychoanalyst remain in analysis themselves when newly qualified. Some specialise in working with adults and children, and others with couples, or groups.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy draws on theories and practices of analytical psychology and psychoanalysis, and it is aimed at deep seated change in personality and emotional development. It can help with specific psychological disorders, or for a greater sense of fulfillment in life, arising from increased self-understanding. Unlike Clinical Psychology which is often an active, and directive process of change, the psychoanalyst will not tell you what to do. Rather by increasing awareness of your inner world, your unconscious self, you become to develop more insight, which can lead to making different choices, which in turn alleviates distress. Psychoanalysis is a long term therapy, the time in therapy varies but is typically 1-3 years, often more, with more than a weekly frequency of attending sessions.

If you are looking for a psychoanalyst the British Psychoanalytic Society has a list of registered therapist click here.

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