Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists

When it comes to healthcare professionals, the range of different job titles and roles can be overwhelming. On a very basic level, most experts who deal with physical ailments tend to be doctors (people who have been to medical school and gained their doctorate over a 7+ year period), who then go onto specialise in their chosen area. Mental health professionals, however, are slightly different.

Many of us tend to confuse psychiatrists and psychologists, and understanding what each does is really useful when it comes to planning your own mental health treatment. They aren’t the same.

Psychiatrists = medical doctors who specialise in mental health

Psychotherapists = may or may not be medical doctors

Psychologists = may have PhDs but aren’t medical doctors


  • If you’ve got a severe or complex mental health issue, you may find yourself being referred to a psychiatrist who can diagnose, prescribe medications and guide you through therapies.
  • They’re medical doctors who have specialised in mental health, meaning that they understand the relationship between physical and mental health.
  • They’ll have at least 11 years of training under their belt; they tend to treat people who live with issues that may impact their medical, psychological and social needs - such as severe depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.
  • You’ll need to chat with your GP who can refer you to a psychiatrist.


  • They may not be medical doctors but psychologists do have at least six years of university training, so they often have an MA or PhD in psychology.
  • Clinical psychologists have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. They focus on providing psychological treatments (like talking therapies) and they see anyone who can be helped by those kinds of treatments - from AHDH to anxiety.
  • You can make an appointment to see a  psychologist without a referral; all you need to do is find a private clinic.
  • If you want to access talking therapy on the NHS, you’ll need to talk to your GP about being put on a local waiting list.


  • A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist or psychologist, or may come from an entirely different background. The important thing is that they’ll have spent at least three years of training in psychotherapy.
  • They help people to overcome anything from stress to eating disorders, PTSD and OCD.
  • Psychotherapy can include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), art therapy and family therapy.
  • They tend to work in hospitals, clinics and in the community and again, your GP can point you in their direction.

Choosing the right treatment and expert

You may find that you end up seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist. You might be assessed by a psychiatrist initially to determine a diagnosis before being referred to a psychologist or psychotherapist who can then take you through therapy.

The first step is going to your GP to discuss whatever it is that you need help with. They can then decipher which mental health professional is best placed to help you. If you know that you want/need to see a psychotherapist and you have the means to afford private treatment, then there are any number of clinics out there.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 10 July 2020
Next review: 10 July 2023