What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist?

March 29, 2016


I am often asked “what is the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychologist?”  The old joke is how much money you pay -  which probably is not really what you want to know.  So to help clear up the confusion I’m going to go down the list of mental health care professionals and briefly explain each of their roles.


Psychiatrist:  A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health.  They mainly deal with diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders through prescribing psychiatric medication.  So how would a psychiatrist help you?  If you require medication to treat your mental health they would be the type of doctor to consult.  To be able to book an appointment with a psychiatrist you will be required to be referred by your family doctor and the visit is generally covered by OHIP.


Psychologist:  A psychologist is generally a person who holds a doctorate in psychology.  They diagnose mental health disorders often through assessments and testing.  People often consult a psychologist when they require an educational evaluation or a psychological evaluation.  Some psychologists offer talk therapy while others prefer to offer consultations, conduct research or teach in colleges and universities.  Often psychologists will hire psychotherapists to provide the talk therapy after diagnosis. To practice in Ontario a psychologist must be registered with their regulatory body, the College of Psychologists of Ontario.  You can self-refer to a psychologist for an appointment.


Psychotherapist:  A psychotherapist is generally a person who holds a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy or relative fields.  They provide you with therapy to help you improve your mental health.  They often work closely with you, discovering your dreams, goals and desires.  Then they help you reach those dreams so you can have the life you wish to live. Psychotherapists are regulated mental health professionals and in Ontario must be registered with their regulatory body, The College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.  You can self-refer to a psychotherapist for an appointment.


I hope this has started to provide some clarity on how to distinguish between the different mental health care professionals.  I realize that this is the first part of the question as the rest of the question is - how do I choose the right one - which will be the topic of my next blog.


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