What is the difference between psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist? And which one to choose?

In Italy the so-called has arrived “psychologist bonus”. From Monday 18 March 2024, in fact, on INPS website it is possible to request electronically until May 31st a monetary contribution to support expenses related to psychotherapy sessionsup to a maximum of €1500 per year per person (with ISEE limit up to €50,000). The measure was foreseen by the Milleproroghe 2022 decree (law 15/2022) and, based on the provisions of the 2023 budget law (law 197/2022), it is structural: that is, it should also be proposed again in the next few years, with an overall budget of at least 8 million euros.

The INPS website was attacked and had various functioning problems, a symptom of the enormous interest and need for this type of service in our country. On the other hand, turning to a specialist to receive psychological assistance is an increasingly common practice. In this regard, if you are not in the sector, a question that often arises is: what are the differences between psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist And to which professional to contact in case of need.

Among the most notable differences is one theoretical and practical preparation longer (by at least 4 years) for psychotherapists and psychiatrists than for psychologists, a different scope of intervention (psychotherapists and psychiatrists can intervene on psychopathologies, psychologists cannot) and the possibility for psychiatrists (and for doctors who have become psychotherapists) to prescribe tests and medications to patients. Let’s delve into these and other differences in detail.

Who is a psychologist and what does he do?

A professional who has obtained the qualification can be defined as a psychologist master’s degree in Psychology (class LM-51 or an old equivalent title), has carried out the apprenticeship associate and has obtained the qualification to practice the profession by passing a State exam ad hoc, subsequently enrolling in theRegister of the Order of Psychologists.

The psychologist is not a doctor, cannot prescribe medications and is required to comply with specific legislation, the code of ethics, which lists its operational limits and duties. Its tasks are established by law 56/1989 and include “prevention, diagnosis, habilitation-rehabilitation and support activities in the psychological field aimed at the person, the group, social organizations and communities”.

The psychologist it does not cure psychopathologies (i.e. pathologies connected to specific mental disorders), but works above all through interviews and submitting test diagnostic or guidance to enable individuals to better understand themselves and relate better to others, thus reducing possible psychological distress and aiming for the recovery of well-being. Psychologists have different areas of intervention: those who work on their own, those in the clinical field, those in the company, those in the sports sector, those at school, etc.

Psychotherapist: who he is and what he does

Any psychotherapist can be called a psychotherapist psychologist or doctor that he has studied and carried out apprenticeship for at least another 4 years at one graduate School. The same can be said for psychiatrists who request it from the order (we talk about this specific case in the paragraph dedicated to psychiatrists). The title of psychotherapist certifies that the professional is also competent for treatment of psychopathologies eonly in the case of doctors and psychiatrists who have become psychotherapists, allows the request for clinical tests and the prescription of drugs.

Generally speaking, we can say that psychotherapists are essentially psychologists with greater knowledge and skills, gained in the field, or doctors who have obtained an ad hoc specialization. In the face of significant psychological suffering and possible mental disorders, psychotherapists draw up a psychotherapy programthat is, a path of diagnosis and treatment that can allow you to overcome your discomfort or pathology and regain well-being.

As a rule, every psychotherapist predominantly adopts a specific approach of diagnosis and treatment: psychoanalytic (the psychoanalyst is therefore a particular type of psychotherapist), cognitive-behavioral, systemic-relational etc. There is absolutely no one approach that is better than the others: depending on the specific needs and preferences of the patient, one may work better than the other.

Who is a psychiatrist and what does he do?

Any professional who has obtained the qualification can define himself as a psychiatrist degree in medicine and surgery (the current Class LM-41 or an old equivalent title), which is registered in theOrder of Doctors and who subsequently specialized, for at least 4 years, in psychiatrywithin a graduate school.

Being a doctor, a psychiatrist can request clinical tests and prescribe drugs in case these were necessary to treat any dysfunctions or imbalances in the organism caused by psychopathologies specific conditions, for which a psychotherapy program is not sufficient. Speaking of psychotherapy: if it is necessary, a psychiatrist can refer the patient to a psychotherapist, or he can also be a psychotherapist himself. To become one, a psychiatrist can simply apply to the Order or decide to follow a further specialization course to be better trained.

Who to contact?

Given the differences we have listed between psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist, it should be easier to decide from the start who to contact. Generally speaking it depends on the typology and from severity of one’s own unease and the presence or absence of a mental disorder which causes a pathology and therefore a certain symptomatology.

If we are in severe suffering and above all if the latter negatively affects the normal functioning of our person or our daily life, it would be advisable to opt for a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist, but it is not an absolute rule. In any case, any one of the three professionals, depending on their respective skills and our needs, is required to refer the patient to another professional, if necessary, to replace him or for a parallel path.