The difference between being a psychologist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist

The difference between being a psychologist

A common question: what are the differences between different mental health professionals?

There is a long list of questions about what differences there are between different mental health professionals. Many people wonder what the main difference is between a psychologist, a psychotherapist and a psychoanalyst. The answer is not simple, since the aim of all of them is the same: to treat and achieve improvements in people’s mental health.

What differentiates different mental health professionals?

However, although they all share the same objective, there are important differences that allow them to be distinguished . One of them is the approach , that is, the set of studies and methods with which they approach the human psyche and which therefore also marks the basis of the therapeutic orientation. But there are other variables to take into account. In any case, it should be taken into account that each country has its own legislation regulating the activity of these professionals, so this text should only be taken as a general introduction.

By the way, we have not included psychiatrists in this post , since the differences between psychologists and psychiatrists are explained in another article. You can consult it:

“What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?”


A psychologist has studied a university degree in psychology and tries to approach psychological needs or difficulties from a vast understanding of human behaviour, as well as mental processes .

Not all psychologists provide therapy

It should be clarified that not all psychologists are dedicated to the individualized treatment of their patients . For example, educational psychologists form part of the organization chart of educational institutions (schools, colleges) and, in addition to dealing with those students who may present problems, they also carry out functions such as adapting certain school curricula to the needs of some students, managing group needs, advising teachers to improve some pedagogical keys, etc.

In addition to educational psychologists, we can also find psychologists from organizations, social psychologists, psychologists who are dedicated to research… All of them perform tasks that go beyond the diagnosis and individualized treatment of their clients.

It is not easy to define a psychologist since there are many specializations

As we can see, it is not easy to define a psychologist since there are complex and different branches and specializations among them . Besides, many psychologists use eclectic approaches and methods.What we can say is that the psychologist handles certain aspects of human behaviour, such as thought, behaviour and interpersonal relationships, to help another person to understand himself better and to solve psychological and relational needs so that he can enjoy greater psychological well-being.

Graduate psychologists are able to offer psychotherapy, perform psychometric tests and carry out treatments to improve the psychological problems of other people, although in some countries such as Spain it will be necessary, in addition to being a graduate, to study specific Masters that will enable them to practice psychotherapy. One of the aspects that differentiates a psychologist from a psychiatrist is that, as we saw in the post dedicated to this, the former do not have the power to prescribe drugs to their patients . It may be the case that psychologists and psychiatrists work together to treat the same patient, but it will always be the psychiatrist who, if he/she believes it necessary, will provide medication to the patients to regulate some type of mental disorder, while the psychologist will practice psychotherapy or another type of treatment appropriate to the needs of the case.

More information: “10 tips for choosing a good psychologist”


It is very important to make it clear that a psychotherapist must have a specialization in psychotherapy from a private institute, but that not everyone who presents himself as a psychotherapist has necessarily studied psychology . For this reason it must be stressed that the psychotherapist who is not a psychologist does not adhere to any regulation or legal protection, unlike psychologists and psychiatrists, who must comply with strict legal and deontological norms and conventions.

An ambiguous term

Psychotherapy is the set of knowledge, techniques and methods that psychotherapists use to help their patients discover themselves , and to initiate a process of cognitive and habit restructuring to improve their quality of life and their interpersonal relationships. In fact, there are many reputable psychologists and even psychiatrists who present themselves as psychotherapists, probably to make it explicit that their task is focused on individualized therapy.

Psychotherapists may have received training in various therapeutic approaches, such as Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Narrative Therapy, hypnosis… As a general rule, these types of therapies by non-psychologists have a more directive style than those used by psychologists, which are based more on self-discovery, giving the patient a greater role.

Another issue to be careful of is that of weekend coaches: “Differences between Psychology and Coaching”


The psychoanalyst is not necessarily a graduate in psychology, although they usually have studies in psychiatry, psychology or even philosophy. The practice of psychoanalysis is also not regulated by any law or official body.

The psychoanalyst carries out his studies within institutes or under the teaching of one or more experienced specialists. To become a psychoanalyst, the trainee must carry out a personal analysis on his or her own person for several years, before being able to practice .

The importance of the unconscious

The technical and methodological approach used by the psychoanalyst is the analysis , normally with the patient lying on the couch or in an armchair in front of the therapist. The main difference with the other therapeutic approaches is that psychoanalysis works with the unconscious of the individual .

Therefore, one of its theoretical foundations is that human beings do not have a conscious control over many of our memories and thoughts, and therefore it is essential that we carry out a rigorous and deep analysis of our unconscious if we want to solve current psychological problems .

Treatment based on psychoanalysis investigates the relationship between these unconscious aspects that influence our interpersonal relationships and thought patterns, as well as our behavior and feelings.In any case, it is always preferable to have a psychology graduate with a specialization in psychoanalysis when entrusting our emotional well-being to him.

Don’t miss this post about the father of psychoanalysis: “Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst”

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