Differences between a psychologist and a psychiatrist

The psychologist is a graduate in Psychology.

The psychotherapist is a psychologist who majored from a four-year special school acknowledged by The MIUR (Italian Ministry for University and Research).

Thus the difference is the same occurring between a general or a specialized practitioner: for example, a surgeon, or a pediatrician, or a gynecologist, etc.

Nobody would ever ask surgery to a general practitioner, even if a good one, but would turn to a surgeon. Likewise, needing treatment for psychic problems, people must turn to a psychotherapist, not to figures lacking of the right specialization.

No doctor will ever allow someone else to be referred to as a “doctor”, if right studies and titles are missing; likewise, nobody is allowed to be named “psychologist” in case the pertinent degree is not completed; neither named “therapist” without the major in Psychotherapy.

How to find them

Both the psychologist and the psychotherapist must be enrolled in their proper professional list. In Italy such list can be found on the national website “Ordine Nazionale Psicologi”, adding the name of the specific referring Region (for example Ordine Nazionale Psicologi Campania, Lazio, etc).
The general psychologist’s tasks are working in hospitals, communities, schools, etc. and they are payed by the State; according to the law, he/she cannot operate within the context of a therapy, neither individual, nor couple/family, nor developmental.

The name of each psychotherapist is shown in the list of his/her Regional Order, together with the saying “Ex. art. 35 from the law 18/2/1989, n.56”.

If the name is not found in the list of any Region, it means that it does not refer to a true psychologist, so, even more not to a psychotherapist. Beware of misleading titles such as “counselor”, “coach”, “familiar mediator”, “moral assistant”, and similar: they refer to partial skills, useful in some contexts, but not at all referable to high level psychology, much less to a true psychotherapeutic intervention.

When to turn to a psychotherapist

Whenever emotional or relational distress occurs, manifesting with symptoms such as: depression, panic attacks, couple or family crisis, developmental problems, etc.

A psychotherapist has a specific knowledge on diagnosis and pharmacology, in order to define the issue in clinical terms. He/she must express a diagnosis, an intervention program and its maximum duration, and a prognosis.

According to the deontological code, he/she has the responsibility and the competence to decide if it may be better to turn to other specialists, maybe a psychiatrist for psychotropic drugs.

How to choose a psychotherapist

Nowadays it is always better to browse the web: carefully reading the attached professional’s curriculum.

Titles are necessary, but not enough: therefore, it is advisable to book a preliminary session, which must not be binding, but allows getting a live idea of personal level of comfort and trust. In fact, any psychotherapist, as much as skilled, remains a person with his/her own specificities and limits.

Different kinds of psychotherapy

In addition to the professional’s curriculum, it is advisable to examine the specific kind of major: since there are many major schools, and they all have different orientations.


  1. Psychoanalysis: the earliest method, going back to Freud and Jung. It works mainly on the unconscious, defense mechanisms and dreams.
  2. Gestalt: it works mainly on the present day (hic et nunc, i.e. here and now), and has given psychotherapy useful techniques which are transversely used by all the schools.
  3. Transactional: it works on “transactions”, i.e. experiential schemes interiorized in early childhood and automatically played out when facing the world.
  4. Cognitive – Behavioral: it works on those schemes of Thought which influence mood and behavior, trying to modify damaging and suffering patterns. It does not seek the deep sources of such schemes, but only quick strategies to overcome symptoms. In some way it has also absorbed both the schools n. 2&3.
  5. Emotional – Bodily: it is the most modern orientation of psychotherapy, based on the updated outcomes from neuropsychology. It is the deepest approach for reconstructing and rehabilitating a person, absorbing the school n.1.
  6. Systemic – Relational: it works mainly on dynamics occurring among the members of a system, such as a couple, a family or a working team. By definition it does not take into account deep or intra-personal dynamics, but it tries to set a more satisfying balance within the group.
  7. Other schools such as EMDR, Mindfulness, Interpersonal, and others, are somewhat controversial.
  8. One can choose a priori which school is felt best suited to personal sensibility. However, an important research carried out by the Faculty of Psychology in Rome, together with other Faculties in other Nations, must be kept in mind: it statistically assessed that the decisive element for an effective outcome of any kind of psychotherapeutic intervention is the good quality of the interpersonal relationship with the chosen doctor.