Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists: What are the Differences?

Understanding the distinction between a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist can be confusing at times. While these mental health professionals do overlap in some areas, the focus of each of these professionals and the services they offer are vastly different. In order to receive effective mental health treatment, it is essential that the client is aware of these differences, so they are able to confidently choose the service that is right for them.

What is a Psychologist?

Psychologists are regulated health professionals, with licenses to practice granted by their regulatory body. In Ontario, psychologists are regulated by the College of Psychologists of Ontario. Psychologists are trained in the assessment, intervention, consultation, and research of various mental health conditions.

In order to register as a psychologist in Ontario an individual will have to pursue a four-year undergraduate honour’s degree in psychology, a two-year master’s degree (M.A) in clinical/counselling/school psychology, and then a four to five-year Ph.D. in clinical/counselling/school psychology. The M.A. and Ph.D. will include years of coursework, research towards completion of a thesis/dissertation, and approximately 3000-4000 hours of clinical rotations (internships). After this, psychologists then do a year of supervised practice where they complete another 1600-2000 hours of clinical work, write two exams for the College of Psychologists of Ontario, and take part in a final oral exam.

Psychologists will typically begin their work with clients by conducting a psychological assessment. Psychological assessments often involve structured clinical interviewing, clinical observation, and the completion of psychological testing (e.g., questionnaires). Psychologists are competent in diagnosing mental health disorders (e.g., depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, sleep disorders like insomnia, pain-related disorders, health anxiety-related disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder etc.), case conceptualization, and putting together appropriate treatment plans that are supported by psychological research. Other forms of assessment conducted by psychologists can include, but are not limited to, the assessment of learning disabilities, autism/ASD, ADHD, and giftedness.

Psychologists are the most extensively trained regulated health professionals when it comes to the requirements to provide psychological treatment (often referred to as therapy, psychotherapy, and counselling). Psychological treatment has been shown in the research to be highly effective in the treatment of a vast array of presenting issues. Some forms of research supported therapy approaches utilized by psychologists include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and ritual prevention (ERP), cognitive therapy (CT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), mindfulness-based meditation/mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT), dialectical based therapy (DBT), and emotion focused therapy (EFT). Clinicians at the Oakville Centre for Cognitive Therapy are all Ph.D. level psychologists or psychologists in training, and they utilize these evidence-based treatment approaches when working with clients.

What is a Psychotherapist?

A psychotherapist is another type of mental health professional. Similar to psychologists, psychotherapists also use “talk therapy” counselling. While similar in some ways, psychotherapists are also quite different. First, psychotherapists have a different regulatory body, referred to as The College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. Second, because psychotherapists training does not involve the focus on psychology like that of a psychologist, psychotherapists are not able to assess or diagnose mental health conditions and they are not able to utilize certain psychological testing measures.

In order to register as a psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO), an individual will need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree, as well as a Master’s level program (or an equivalent) focused on the practice of psychotherapy. Individuals pursuing a career in psychotherapy must complete a registration exam and have a minimum of 1000 hours of direct client contact and 150 hours of clinical supervision.

What is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are also regulated health professionals, with licenses to practice granted by their regulatory body. In Ontario, psychiatrists are regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Psychiatrists are medical doctors and are trained in the assessment and pharmaceutical intervention of various mental health conditions. In order to register as a psychiatrist in Ontario an individual will have to pursue a medical degree and then go on to do a specialization in psychiatry.

Similar to psychologists, psychiatrists will typically begin their work with clients by conducting an assessment and then subsequently diagnosing mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, substance use disorders, etc.). Although a psychiatrist’s treatment will commonly involve medication consults with clients (a form of treatment that a psychologist and psychotherapist can not perform), they can also provide psychotherapy to clients.

Associates at Oakville Centre for Cognitive Therapy

All associates at the Oakville Centre for Cognitive Therapy have received extensive post-secondary education and training in the treatment of various mental health disorders. Our associates are all Ph.D. level psychologists registered by The College of Psychologists of Ontario, or Ph.D candidates en route to becoming clinical psychologists. With years of meticulous training, our team of psychological service providers are highly-proficient in the use of evidence-based assessment and treatment procedures for children, adolescents, and adults.

If you decide that seeing a psychologist is the best choice for you and want to receive evidence-based treatment please feel free to reach out to our team at the Oakville Centre for Cognitive Therapy. 

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