What is the Difference between a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, and Psychotherapist?

I often get asked the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, and a psychotherapist. While all three professionals overlap in some ways in the work they do, they have unique differences in their training and scope of practice. In order to select the right professional for yourself, you will have to understand what your needs are first. Hopefully, the descriptions I provide will help facilitate that process.

Psychiatrist

  • Psychiatrists have a medical degree, much like your family physician, but they are also specifically trained in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
  • They mainly treat issues through the prescription of medication. Thus, the focus of sessions is usually around management of symptoms and the medication(s) prescribed, such as changing the dosage or switching medications, based on the symptoms you report.
  • In Ontario,
    • you need a referral from your family physician or a psychologist to see a psychiatrist
    • your visit will be covered by Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)
    • you can expect to wait up to several months before getting an appointment with a psychiatrist
    • you should ensure the psychiatrist you are seeing is in good standing with The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO)

Psychologist

  • Psychologists have a doctorate degree.
  • They are specifically trained in developing, researching, and administering psychological tests which are used to assess various components of intelligence (e.g., learning disabilities or developmental delays), personality traits, mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and/or any effects caused by brain injury.
  • While some psychologists may offer talk therapy in addition to administering assessments, others choose to teach in universities, conduct research in their area of interest, or offer consultation to doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.
  • In Ontario,
    • you may or may not need a referral to see a psychologist, depending on the issue
    • your insurance plan may cover the visits to some extent
    • you can expect a psychologist to charge $200 or more per session
    • you can expect the wait time to be long, though not as long to see a psychiatrist
    • you should choose a psychologist who is registered, or in the process of registration, with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO)

Psychotherapist

  • Psychotherapists hold a master’s degree in a mental health field, such as marriage and family therapy, psychology, counselling, etc.
  • They use talk therapy to help people resolve and manage emotional, behavioral, and cognitive issues that are preventing them from living a more fulfilled life. Talk therapy is an interactive and collaborative process which uses various approaches, techniques, and interventions by way of verbal and non-verbal communication to help people grow and improve their lives. Psychotherapists work from the underlying belief that people have the capabilities and strengths within themselves to exercise greater control and change in their lives.
  • In Ontario,
    • you do not need a referral to see a psychotherapist
    • your private insurance plan may cover the visits to some extent
    • you can expect a psychotherapist to charge around $150 a session
    • you should choose a psychotherapist who is registered, or in the process of registration, with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO)

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