Therapist vs. Psychotherapist: Clarifying Your Choices

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 5, 2023
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Understanding the distinctions between a therapist and a psychotherapist can be critical in your journey to mental wellness. This is not just about terminology but also about knowing who can provide the right help you need.

Let’s delve into these two roles, their qualifications, areas of expertise, and how they can guide you towards improved mental health.

Our Online Mental Health Review Team, a collective of seasoned mental health professionals, stands ready to clear the fog around complex topics like understanding the difference between a therapist and a psychotherapist.

So let’s get started!

What Is A Therapist?

A therapist is a broad term referring to professionals trained to treat mental health problems. They can include clinical psychologists, social workers, counselors, and psychiatrists. Typically, therapists hold a master’s degree or higher and have undergone extensive training to provide various types of therapy.

Therapists use different approaches based on their training and the client’s needs. For instance, they might use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people with anxiety or depression or marriage and family therapy for marital issues or parenting challenges.

An example of a therapist’s work could be helping a client manage stress and burnout related to their job. They may provide strategies for better work-life balance, teach relaxation techniques, or work through any fears or insecurities contributing to the stress.

What Is A Psychotherapist?

The differences between a therapist, psychiatrist and psychologist

While all psychotherapists are therapists, not all therapists are psychotherapists.

A psychotherapist is a specific type of therapist specializing in mental health disorders.

Psychotherapy treats mental health disorders by helping people understand their illnesses and teaching them strategies to manage their symptoms.

Psychotherapists must meet specific training and licensure requirements, typically holding a doctoral degree in psychology or related field. They are equipped to treat various mental health conditions, including more severe ones like PTSD or schizophrenia.

For instance, a psychotherapist might work with a client suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They might use eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or exposure therapy to help the client process traumatic memories and reduce their impact.

What Is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychotherapist?

According to Medicine.net, the differences between the two include:

  • Professional Scope: A psychotherapist comprises all professionals dealing with mental health problems or emotional issues, whereas a therapist provides therapy, encompassing a broader range of disciplines.
  • Targeted Focus: A psychotherapist specifically targets the mind, particularly thoughts and behaviors.
  • Duration and Depth: Psychotherapy focuses more on long-term issues and growth, while counseling or therapy often aims to help people resolve current issues.
  • Treatment Method: “Psychotherapy” is generally a longer-term treatment focusing more on gaining insight into chronic physical and mental illnesses and emotional issues.
  • Professional Qualifications: A psychotherapist is typically a psychologist or registered counselor specializing in psychotherapy.
  • Approach to Treatment: Therapists may use a variety of treatment approaches, whereas psychotherapy takes a more abstract approach by focusing on analyzing emotions, dreams, and instinctual demands.

What Are the Similarities Between a Therapist and a Psychotherapist?

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While therapists and psychotherapists may have different areas of focus or treatment methods, they share a common goal: to learn coping skills to help individuals navigate their mental and emotional challenges.

Here are some key similarities:

  • Mental Health Focus: Both therapists and psychotherapists are professionals trained to deal with mental health problems or emotional issues.
  • Providing Therapy: Whether it’s psychotherapy or another, both professionals offer therapeutic services to help individuals manage their mental health.
  • Treatment Goals: The overarching purpose of therapy and psychotherapy is to improve the client’s mental well-being and quality of life.
  • Talking Therapy: Both professions use talking therapy as a primary treatment method.
  • Work Settings: Therapists and psychotherapists often work in similar settings, such as private practices, hospitals, or mental health clinics.

Choosing The Right Professional

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Knowing whether to see a therapist or a psychotherapist to treat mental health conditions largely depends on your needs.

  1. A psychotherapist might be a better fit if you’re dealing with severe mental health conditions or complex trauma.
  2. However, a therapist may be all you need if you’re seeking help with life transitions, stress management, or relationship issues.

Finding a professional who makes you feel comfortable and understood is essential. Don’t hesitate to reach out, ask questions, and advocate for your mental health.

Should you see a psychotherapist or therapist first?

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Starting therapy can feel like a big step, and deciding whether to see a psychotherapist or a therapist first might seem confusing.

Here’s some gentle guidance to help you make the best choice for your mental health journey:

  1. Assess Your Needs: Understanding the specific issues you’re facing can guide you toward the right mental health professional; a therapist may be helpful for general emotional support, while a psychotherapist might be more suited for deep-seated mental health conditions in therapeutic modalities.
  2. Consider the Type of Therapy: Different types of therapy suit different needs; a psychotherapist might provide more specialized therapies like cognitive-behavioral or psychodynamic therapy.
  3. Check their Specialties: Some therapists or psychotherapists specialize in certain areas, such as trauma, anxiety, or depression. Choose the one that aligns with your needs.
  4. Ease of Access: Sometimes, it might be easier to start with a therapist who is more accessible, geographically or financially, as marriage and family therapists, then consider a psychotherapist if needed.
  5. Personal Comfort: Feeling comfortable with your therapist or psychotherapist is crucial. You might want to meet a few professionals before choosing the right fit.

Therapist vs. Psychotherapist Conclusion:

Understanding the differences between a therapist and a psychotherapist can empower you to make informed decisions about your mental health care. Whether you choose a therapist or a psychotherapist, remember that reaching out for help is a significant first step toward better mental health.

You may also suggest your favorite mental health software you think the Online Mental Health Reviews platform should review next. Our team would love to hear about your experience!

If your organization is considering a mental health tool, please email us to request a review. If appropriate, we will secret shop the service your organization wants to learn more about and leave a comprehensive review.

Additional Reading

For more distinctions between various mental health jobs/terms, please see our articles covering: counselor vs therapist and salary comparison, psychiatrist vs psychologist (depression), depression, LPC vs PsyD, clinical psychologist, counseling versus coaching, mentors vs sponsors, psychotherapy vs CBT, therapy quiz, trauma coach vs therapist, therapist vs life coaches, hospital vs psych ward, and psychologist vs social worker.

If You’re In An Emergency:

In times of acute crisis, it’s crucial to remember that online therapy appointments may not provide the immediate help needed. If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation involving harm to oneself or others, don’t hesitate to dial 911. For those grappling with suicidal thoughts, there’s always help at your fingertips; simply dial 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which operates round the clock. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free, confidential helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357), providing 24/7 access to information and referral services for individuals battling mental health or substance abuse disorders.

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