28 Aug 2023

BY: Online Therapy

Clinical Psychologist / Clinical Psychology / Counselling / Psychologist / Psychotherapy

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The difference between a psychotherapist and a psychologist

Article by Anna Keyter

Many people ask what is the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychologist. Below, we explain some key differences between psychotherapy and psychology and the roles of psychotherapists and psychologists.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a mental health treatment that involves a patient talking with a trained psychologist or psychotherapist to address psychological and emotional distress (1). The intention is to assist the patient in understanding their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours by providing them with tools and techniques to cope with challenges, improve their well-being, and enhance their overall quality of life (2). Psychotherapy is a purposeful and powerful treatment. Scientific evidence shows that it can be very effective (3).

Psychotherapy can be provided as individual therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, or family therapy and incorporates different therapeutic approaches according to the needs and preferences of the client(s).

The role of a psychotherapist

Psychotherapists typically have graduate-level training in psychology, counselling, social work, medicine/psychiatry and/or have completed a specific psychotherapy qualification. They hold a university qualification (usually postgraduate) in their respective fields. The psychotherapy profession is primarily self-regulated, meaning that registration to a board is voluntary.

Psychotherapists can work in various settings such as private practice, mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, or community organisations, including those that offer rehabilitation services. They provide an empathetic and non-judgmental environment to support clients in gaining insight, resolving conflicts, managing emotions, building resilience, and improving their overall mental well-being. Psychotherapists do not prescribe medications but may collaborate with general practitioners, psychiatrists and other medical professionals if medication management is appropriate for the patient’s treatment.

What is psychology?

Human psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour, including our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, motivations, and social interactions. It is a broad field that includes multiple sub-disciplines and areas of specialisation. These include cognitive psychology, which examines cognitive processes like memory, attention, and problem-solving; social psychology, which explores how other individuals and the social context influence and impact individuals; developmental psychology, which studies human growth and changes across the lifespan; and many more.

Psychological research is undertaken in universities, research institutes and workplaces.  It can involve combining experimental studies, surveys, observations, and statistical analyses to gather and interpret data. The findings from psychological research help inform theories and provide insights into human behaviour, mental processes, and psychological well-being.

What is a psychologist?

A graduate psychologist is someone who has completed a recognised university degree in psychology. However, qualified Psychologists are those who are registered with relevant government regulatory bodies and have completed intensive training programmes in one or more areas of Applied Psychology. 

Psychologists practice within a specialised scope (called scope of practice), which includes registrations such as clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists, educational psychologists, health psychologists, general/practising psychologists or research psychologists. Psychologists need to practise within their specific scopes as laid out by their registering organisation.  In Aotearoa/ New Zealand, the registration is made with the New Zealand Psychologists Board.

Specifically, psychologists are trained to assess and contribute to diagnosing learning, developmental or mental health conditions, for example, personality disorders.  Psychologists conduct psychological testing and provide evidence-based approaches or therapies to support individuals with learning, mental health or development difficulties.  Some Psychologists work systemically, for example, with families, schools or organisations to provide the best possible support for individual children or adults. (4). Similar to psychotherapists, some psychologists provide psychotherapy to understand their clients’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to facilitate change.  That psychotherapy can be dyadic (one-to-one), triadic (couples) or group-based.

As with psychotherapists, psychologists can work independently and as part of an interdisciplinary team.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychotherapist?

Description Profession of Psychologist Profession of Psychotherapist
Qualifications Postgraduate qualification in psychology, usually including a research dissertation. Postgraduate qualification focusing on psychotherapy.
Protected titles A psychologist is a protected term; a professional can call themselves a psychologist when registered with a psychologist board, which the government regulates. Although all psychologists can be called psychotherapists if they have training in psychotherapeutic techniques, not all psychotherapists can call themselves psychologists.
Scope of practice (specialties) Psychologists have the following scopes of practice:   Clinical psychologist (focus on clinical conditions and personality disorders), Counselling psychologist (therapeutic interventions), Health psychologist (health focus, generally work in hospitals), Educational psychologist (developmental focus), Rehabilitation psychologist (rehabilitation focus), Neuropsychologist (specialise in neurological tests) Research psychologist General/practising psychologist. Depending on the training, a psychotherapist may specialise in one or more psychotherapies (eclectic or integrative psychotherapists).
Diagnosis Clinical, counselling, rehabilitation and health psychologists diagnose clients to understand them in a clinical context using the DSM or ICD criteria. Psychotherapists do not diagnose; their focus is on working through behavioural or emotional distress.
Registration Government-regulated boards Depending on the country, psychotherapy can be licenced or unlicensed. Mostly, psychotherapists are self-regulated, meaning they voluntarily belong to boards.
Internship 1500 hours at a health board includes all activities, including face-to-face therapy, report writing and in-house training. 750 hours of face to face psychotherapy hours (which excludes report writing or in-house training).


When considering work with a professional, looking at qualifications, track record and registration authority is essential. Most responsible practitioners will receive regular supervision and continued development, and you can ask your therapist about their experience, registration and training. We hope this article helps you choose a practitioner that will work for you.

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