Both therapists and psychiatrists treat mental health problems or disorders. But what exactly is the difference between the two? Which should you turn to, when and how do they work? This article describes the main differences.

What is a therapist?

The title ‘therapist’ is a general title and a kind of collective term for all kinds of therapists. Cognitive behavioral therapists are also often referred to by the term ‘therapist’. Each ‘type’ of therapist has a specific, university education and may specialize in a particular field.

Therapists treat mental health problems related to thoughts and emotions, and they usually do so using cognitive behavioral therapy and various interview techniques. To give a few examples:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapist: deals with behavioral problems, whether or not they are the result of obstructive thought patterns.
  • Relationship therapist: helps solve and prevent relationship problems in couples.
  • Occupational or organizational therapist: works at companies and organizations on the productivity and job satisfaction of employees.
  • School therapist: provides support to both teachers and students.
  • Rehabilitation therapist: guides patients during a rehabilitation process – often in collaboration with a social worker, the attending physician and the nurses involved.
  • Applied therapist: uses scientific knowledge to solve or investigate general or social problems, or trends related to behavior.

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist, unlike a therapist, is a medical doctor. A psychiatrist has therefore initially studied medicine and then specialized to become a psychiatrist. The advanced training for psychiatrist also includes training as a psychotherapist. A psychiatrist is therefore officially registered as a doctor, psychiatrist, and psychotherapist. A psychiatrist can work in three fields:

  • Child and youth psychiatry
  • Adult psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry

Because of his or her medical background, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication. This usually occurs only when complex mental health problems or disorders are present, such as in patients with personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorders, or psychoses. A psychiatrist also looks at mental health more from a medical perspective, focusing on the health of the whole body and the link between physical and mental health. You always need a referral (from a therapist) to see a psychiatrist.

Therapists and psychiatrists

When you seek help for psychological symptoms, you usually end up with a therapist in the first instance. If this therapist thinks it would be wise to add medication to the treatment, he or she will refer you to a psychiatrist. In many cases, it comes down to the psychiatrist being responsible for the medical part of the treatment, and the therapist for the psychological part.

At The Online Therapists, there are different kinds of therapists and a psychiatrist. This allows us to offer you customized care.


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