Differences Between a Psychotherapist and a Psychologist

By Dr. Ajit Dandekar in Mental Health (Psychiatry, Psychology)

Apr 24 , 2023 | 4 min read


People often get confused between psychotherapists and psychologists. Are they the same as a therapist? Is there a difference between a therapist and a psychologist? Here are all the differences between therapists or psychotherapists and psychologists.

Who is a Psychotherapist?

A psychotherapist is often called a therapist. If any of your family members or friends seek therapy, they consult a psychotherapist, also known as a talking therapist.

In simpler words, psychotherapists allow patients to talk to them freely. They are trained professionals who encourage people to talk about their feelings and help overcome problems of overthinking, stress, anxiety and depression. Psychotherapists help people feel heard and work with them to maintain their mental health.

Psychotherapists use cognitive behavioural therapy, psychodynamic therapy, systematic psychotherapy, humanistic psychotherapy, arts and play therapies and more. A psychotherapist is also trained in dealing with personality disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) etc.

Role of a Psychotherapist

A psychotherapist's main role is to help people work on their mental health. Most of the problems that psychotherapists deal with stem from poor mental health. A psychotherapist makes sure that their client is heard. During this process, a psychotherapist can do the following:

  • Provide a solution to problems
  • Help clients feel better by improving their mind space
  • Engage in healthy and meaningful dialogue
  • Facilitate quality communication with them
  • Implement behavioural changes by introducing meditation, encouraging clients to make small changes in their life and finally, instilling the will to change


A psychotherapist provides in-depth therapy depending on the level of support a client needs. Psychotherapy sessions can continue for over six months and more with multiple weekly sittings. The number of sessions decreases if the client shows signs of improvement.

Who is a Psychologist?

A psychologist deals with people's problems in a more practical way. They step into their client's shoes before helping them overcome their problems. For this, professionals study psychology in-depth and pursue a Master's in Psychology (3 to 5 years specialisation).

During their postgraduate degree, they can choose specialisations like clinical psychology or counselling psychology. After spending over five years in human psychology, psychologists are the most experienced professionals dealing with severe mental illnesses. They take hints from the first few meetings with their client. They have a way of understanding their client better and easily encourage them to open up. As experts, they are known for bringing their client's mental health on track within a few sessions.

Role of a Psychologist

There is a thin line between a psychologist and a psychotherapist. However, it can make a huge difference to their clients. The role of a psychologist is as follows:

  • Instead of dealing with what the problem is, they help people realise why they have a problem
  • Help clients identify the root cause of the problem
  • Help clients understand when they first discovered the problem
  • Help them identify their motivations and work on them
  • Do not prescribe medications
  • Provide specialisation counselling (behavioural, organisational, sports, clinical etc.)


Psychologists also help people who experience panic attacks and have other disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other major mental illnesses. They work along with psychiatrists in case of complicated mental disorders.

Therapist vs Psychologist—Are They Similar?

A therapist is the same as a psychotherapist; however, a psychologist is a different profession. They are similar in that both perform talking therapy and deal with mental health issues. Neither of them can prescribe medications to their clients. Therapists and psychologists are, however, not similar when it comes to expertise. A therapist can become a psychologist after pursuing more vigorous study in psychology. In short, a psychologist has more expertise in human psychology and specialises in a particular type of psychology.

Therapist vs Psychologist—Are They different?

A therapist or psychotherapist is different from a psychologist because both require different certifications to complete their qualification. A psychotherapist requires an undergraduate/master’s degree in psychology to be a psychotherapist. A psychologist requires more vigorous study, i.e. a 5-6 year master’s degree with a specific specialisation. In short, a psychologist can be a psychotherapist, but vice versa may not be true. If need be, a psychotherapist can refer their clients to a psychologist.

Who Should You Consult?

As someone dealing with a mental disorder, you should first check the qualification of the mental health provider. They should at least have completed their degree from a reputed college and hold the best certification available in the region.

You can contact any mental health provider, whether a therapist or psychologist. They should have a graduate and postgraduate degree from a recognised medical institution. If you are seeing a psychologist, remember that they do not prescribe medications and only provide healing through communication.

If you see no improvement in your mental illness, you should convey the same to your psychologist. They may recommend a psychiatrist (who holds a doctorate in Medicine) and can prescribe medicines for mental illnesses.


A therapist vs psychologist is often confusing. Therapists and psychologists both perform talking therapy. However, a psychologist is more experienced if a person is seeking counselling in a particular genre like sports psychology, clinical psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology etc.

However, therapists and psychologists are trained to help you deal with mental health issues like OCD, stress, depression, anxiety, self-doubt etc.