It’s not as if making the decision to seek professional help isn’t difficult enough – the fact that things are then complicated further by industry terms and jargon only stands to make things worse. David Goodlad counsellor has found that one of the most commonly asked questions by those who have made the decision to speak to the professionals is that of what, if anything, is the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a counsellor. Up and down the United Kingdom, service providers are advertising themselves under one or more of the three titles, so what exactly makes the difference from one to the next?

Well, the simple answer is that there is indeed a difference between the three terms and important difference at that. And just to make things that little bit trickier to digest, it is perfectly possible for a professional to specialise in one of the three professions, or combine as many as they wish.

Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Counsellor – What’s The Difference?

Just to help clarify who it is that does what and more importantly, who it is you may wish to reach out to, here is a very quick rundown of all three including a brief description of each:

The Psychiatrist

Kicking things off, the psychiatrist offers an array of helpful services on the subject of mental health disorders. What’s unique about the psychiatrist is the way in which in order to practice as a legitimate psychiatrist, these individuals must be formally trained as doctors in order to then choose to focus their attention and on-going training on the specific specialism of psychiatry. In terms of what it is that a psychiatrist does, psychiatrists study mental health disorders, identify and diagnose mental disorders in patients, plan and implement treatment programs for the management of mental disorders and work toward their prevention. There are various examples of more intensively focused areas of psychiatry, which vary from child psychiatry to old age psychiatry to forensic psychiatry and many more besides.

The Psychologist

Often confused with psychiatry, psychology is in fact a very different subject entirely. Whereas the psychiatrist focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders, psychologists instead work in the field of studying the human mind with regard to the way we act, think and behave. Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between the two as much of what’s involved in studying human behaviour and thinking relates very closely to a variety of mental health conditions. In terms of qualifications and experience, more often than not a psychologist will have trained extensively and will be expected to have a minimum of a degree in the subject in order to practice legitimately.

The Counsellor/Psychotherapist

Rounding off the trio, the counsellor/psychotherapist provides an extraordinarily important yet wholly different range of services than the above two professionals. Rather than looking into mental health conditions in which human beings think and behave, counsellors focus on the overcoming of difficulties and the general advancements of their patients by exploring, bringing out and instilling a better understanding of feelings, emotions and respective behaviours. Creating and implementing treatment programs in either of the above two examples can be extremely hard-fought and difficult to say the least. In the case of the counsellor, there are so many instances in which simply speaking to the counsellor and sharing any pressing problems can in its own right represent both the diagnosis and treatment process all rolled into one. In the instance of the counsellor, British law does not currently state that any specific qualifications, education or training are needed in order for anyone to offer their services as a counsellor. However to offer any mental service that is not up to standard can result in a prosecution.   Nevertheless, the industry’s most respected and capable professionals boast highly impressive educational and professional backgrounds, which should always be sought by clients in the interests of an agreeable outcome.

Vetting the Vendors

Regardless of which of the three above services may be required, it is of equal importance to invest as much time and effort as necessary in researching and vetting all available service providers. Just as is the case across almost every line of work imaginable, standards and approaches to patient/client care vary exponentially from one provider to the next and therefore should not be taken for granted.

While a speedy resolution will always be desirable, rushing a decision without sufficient prior thought and investigation is never recommended. Use the information available online including the thoughts, comments and recommendations of other members of the public to help steer your decision in the right direction.