The terms Psychologist, Psychiatrist, therapist, psychoanalyst and counsellor are all very common – and we all have a rough idea of what they all do.

Many think that these positions and roles are the same. But actually, each of the above are slightly different, with all having various permissions and intricacies.

If you are planning on going to therapy, or are currently receiving help for your mental health, it can be helpful to know the difference between them all.

Those who have therapy will typically meet with a mental health professional

The definitions

Here are the all-important definitions:

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a trained and qualified doctor, who has specialist training in diagnosing mental health conditions. A psychiatrist is also able to prescribe drugs to his/her patients. They will often work in hospitals, including mental health hospitals. Psychiatrists will be able to diagnose a condition, and set up a treatment plan. They will also be able to provide therapy sessions.

Psychologist: A psychologist looks into the human mind more, and will usually be someone that provides therapy sessions. Those with severe or debilitating mental health conditions will often see a psychologist. Psychologists are highly-qualified, and work both for the NHS and privately. A psychiatrist or GP will often refer someone to a psychologist. A lot of their time is spent with patients.

Psychoanalyst: A psychoanalyst is someone that has been trained to help clients explore and analyse their personal unconscious mind. They will work closely with their patient to look into their mind and try to come up with ways of improving their mental wellbeing. Psychologists will spend their time working with patients. They normally provide Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy or Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.

Counsellor and Psychotherapist: These are generic terms for professionals that provide a wide variety of psychological help to patients. They typically work with patients on a long-term basis. Counsellors and Psychotherapists will work for either the NHS or privately. They will often have knowledge of a wide range of types of therapy.

So what about a therapist?

A therapist is a bit of a catch-all term that can be used to describe anyone that provides therapy or psychological assistance to a client. Therefore, virtually anyone can call themselves a “therapist”.

It is important to look for certain qualities and qualifications in a Therapist for Mental Health. This will ensure that you are treated by a qualified professional.

Overall, a therapist can be anyone from a psychologist, to someone that just offers therapy on a casual basis. The most qualified therapists though are those that are either psychologists or psychiatrists.

What will and what won’t therapists do?

Therapists will ultimately do their upmost to help a client’s mental wellbeing improve. This will often be a gradual process. They will use a variety of techniques to try and achieve this.

By offering a safe environment where a person can freely speak their mind, a person will be able to talk about any problems they have. A therapist will aim to help an individual gain and understanding of their thought processes, identify harmful behaviours and feelings, and come up with ways of treating life’s problems.

Therapists however cannot do everything. Firstly, they cannot be your friend. While a calm ‘hello’ is nice at the beginning, therapists are bound by a code of ethics and responsibilities that involve treating the client as a client, and nothing else.

It is worth remembering too that only psychiatrists can prescribe medication. A GP will often be the one to prescribe a medication.


It is useful to have knowledge of various terms and job roles when entering treatment for mental health. The definitions above should certainly assist with this.

For further information on therapy, consider reading our article on Everything You Need To Know About Talking Therapy. You may also wish to read our article on NHS or Private Therapy for Mental Health: Which is Better?.



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