November 23, 2010

What's the difference?

What's the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a person who went to medical school and chose to specialize in psychiatry rather than pediatrics, oncology, or another medical specialization. Psychiatrists are doctors and they can prescribe drugs. In contrast, a psychologist is a person who completed a PhD in psychology (although in Quebec prior to 2006, a psychologist could be granted a license with a master's degree).

The reason it's confusing is that both professionals do mental health research, see patients in clinic or hospital settings, and teach in universities. And, although therapy is usually the province of psychologists, some psychiatrists conduct therapy as well. 

What's a psychotherapist, then? Enter further complication. Until recently, the title “psychotherapist” was not protected in Quebec and no regulations governed its practice. Any psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, nurse, social worker, sexologistor for that matter, any software developer, construction worker, or event plannercould advertise himself or herself as a therapist. However, the term "psychotherapist" became regulated in 2012, and the right to practice psychotherapy and the use of the title psychotherapist is now restricted to psychologists and members of certain other professional orders. This legislation is good news for the public because it prevents individuals who are not adequately trained from providing psychotherapy.

Sometimes when I tell people I'm a psychologist, they say "Oh wow, I bet you're reading my mind right now!" This is a whole other level of confusion wherein psychologists are mistaken for psychics.

In sum, psychiatrists are doctors; psychologists are PhDs; psychotherapists (in Quebec) are psychoeducators, nurses, guidance counsellors, social workers, and occupational therapists, among others; and no one can read your mind. Now go forth and impress mental health professionals with your advanced understanding of the differences between professions!


  1. En fait, le titre de psychothérapeute est maintenant réservé à des professionnels faisant partie de différents ordres professionnels. Ce sera l'Ordre des psychologues qui veillera à donner le titre de psychothérapeute aux autres professionnels (sauf pour les médecins, qui l'auront d'office).

  2. Thanks Anonyme! I've corrected my post.