What Makes a Psychologist and a Psychotherapist Different?

It is not really easy to tell the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychologist since both of them are experts in mental health who work with patients going through mental or emotional health problems. But, these two professions actually have distinct differences when it comes to education, training, and the specific functions they serve.

Psychologists at a Glance 

A psychologist is a medical professional with a doctoral degree in psychology. Psychologists focus mainly on the medical area field called talk therapy. In general, they also have extensive training in psychological testing and diagnosis. 

Most psychologists are skilled in performing research procedures as well. Majority of psychologists focusing in research pursue careers in research facilities or academic settings and opt to earn a degree of Doctor of Philosophy in psychology. Those psychologists who choose to focus mainly on clinical practice rather than research earn a degree of Doctor of Psychology. 

Psychotherapists use listening techniques
Psychotherapists can specialize in specific types of patients and practice different forms of therapy

Psychology primarily involves the study of people. A psychologist focuses mainly on the way people act and think, how they interact with those around them, and how they react to internal and external conditions. It is also typical for psychology to concern itself with every aspect of human behavior together with the feelings, motivations, and thoughts that influence and drive such behaviors. 

Among the most crucial facets of psychology is the focus on the human mind’s normal functions. To this end, this encompasses the study of the way people remember people and events and learn ideas as well as the children’s psychological development. 

Most aspiring psychologists embark on their careers as an assistant psychologist. They can then choose to work various areas such as occupational psychology, education, and mental health. Psychologists in healthcare settings may also work in the fields of counseling, forensic psychology, or clinical psychology. A trained psychologist may pursue careers as high-intensity therapists or psychological wellbeing practitioners as well. 

Psychotherapists at a Glance

Psychotherapists are those medical professionals trained in helping people going through emotional problems. A psychotherapist may work as a psychiatrist, psychologist, behavioral therapist, or social worker depending on their area of specialization, training, and education. 

In general, psychotherapists help people in managing relationship and emotional problems or overcoming stressful episodes in their lives. These professionals can also help people overcome and manage actions and habits that cause issues in both their personal and professional lives. 

Psychotherapists use talking techniques
Psychotherapists provide talk therapy to help people manage and improve their mental health and emotional wellbeing

Most psychotherapists mainly work with individuals as they treat their patients on one-on-on basis. But, many of them also have the qualifications for working with families, couples, and groups of employees or workers. 

Professionals from most medical fields might be qualified to work as a psychotherapist. Most of the practicing psychotherapists today have received training and education as psychologists or psychiatrists. They might also be other types of professionals in mental health who have gone through extensive specialist psychotherapy training. 

There are several medical psychotherapists who also received the training and education required for them to become fully qualified doctors. Typically, these professionals have acquired university training in psychiatry before pursuing additional specialist psychotherapy training that lasts for 3 to 4 years. The medical psychotherapists mainly focus on psychotherapeutic treatment of those patients who have been diagnosed with certain psychiatric conditions. 

Also called talk therapy, psychotherapy can take on different forms, focusing on several different objectives and approaches that include the following:

  • Play and arts therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Experiential constructivist therapy
  • Hypno-psychotherapy
  • Integrative and humanistic psychotherapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Psychoanalytic therapy
  • Family and systemic psychotherapy

Key Differences between Psychologists and Psychotherapists

The functions and roles of psychologists and psychotherapists overlap in various aspects although there are some notable differences between these two:


Training in psychotherapy takes place primarily at graduate level. This means that it isn’t necessary for a psychotherapist to have undergraduate education in psychology. Having formal education in criminal justice, public policy, or medicine is the sole requirement for training for psychotherapists.

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Aside from graduate education, the aspiring psychotherapists also need to go through an internship and practical training to understand the profession better. There are several states where it is also required to have certification to practice in the field. Most psychotherapists also have a master’s degree. 

Academics is the main focus of training and education for psychologists, with most of them holding doctorates in psychology. The academic training allows a psychologist to implement treatment and training based on evidence. 

Clinical psychologists also need to undergo undergraduate training in psychology. It is also important for them to go through additional psychological training at doctorate level. As they study psychology, there is also a need for them to submit a research thesis and complete a clinical placement. 

Focus Areas

There is an extensive range of services involved in psychotherapy that include various therapies. Psychotherapists may also provide cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, or something similar depending on their field of specialization. 

Psychologists focus mainly on the way people think, feel and behave, applying scientific approach in order to help people manage and understand their behavior. They often work with those patients diagnosed with developmental disorders, relationship-related stressful episodes, and mental health conditions. 

A psychologist also focuses mainly on research, testing, and assessment. These techniques help them determine and address developmental disorders or learning problems in patients. 

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A psychologist can apply for license to practice only after graduation and should have license to practice. All states have different requirements for acquiring a license for psychology. 

Most states let psychotherapists practice with no license but it will be beneficial for them to be a part of a reliable professional organization. 


Psychologists usually spend all their professional lives working in a field related to psychology. Due to the considerable clinical and educational prerequisites, it is rare for them to work in some other medical fields.  A psychologist usually performs psychological testing and diagnosis. There are psychologists who work as school or hospital practitioners or as researchers. 

A psychotherapist can work with groups, families, and individuals. They are unqualified to prescribe medications just like psychologists. They may provide therapeutic programs specific to some subjects like music or art or work with those patients who are coping with traumas.

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