The Different Types of Therapists

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

You want to try therapy, but then you come on a site like this, look at the different therapist profiles, and your head is swimming.

Do need a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist? Is a counsellor as good as a psychologist? And what is a counselling psychologist, anyway?

What are the different types of therapists in the UK?

Here in the UK your talk therapist might be a:

  • psychiatrist
  • counselling psychologist
  • psychotherapist
  • counsellor.

All four can offer talk therapy, and all four can, over the course of their career, train in the different schools of therapeutic thought, like psychodynamic, humanistic, and cognitive behavioural therapies.

The difference is mostly one of education and training.


A psychiatrist is the only type of mental health professional who can prescribe medication.

A psychiatrist's main job is to diagnose mental health disorders and to recommend treatment, often a combination of medication and talk therapy. Some offer talk therapy themselves, but many only diagnose, then refer you on to other therapists.

A psychiatrist is first and foremost a medical doctor. They go to medical school, and qualify as a general practitioner. They then choose to specialise as a psychiatrist and do an additional degree where they learn about the different kinds of mental health disorders like personality disorders.

A psychiatrist is a good fit if:

  • you think you have a mental health disorder or personality disorder
  • you would like to try medication for your anxiety or depression.

Counselling psychologist

A counselling psychologist has first done a degree in psychology, where they study the science of the mind and human behaviour.

They then decide to work with clients, instead of work in research, so go on to do a degree in counselling psychology, where they learn about the different schools of therapeutic thought. From there their training becomes similar to a psychotherapist’s.

A counselling psychologist is good fit if:

  • you would like to do testing for a learning difference (find one with this specialty)
  • you want to try talk therapy and like the idea of someone who also understands the science of behaviour.


A psychotherapist decides from the start that what they want to do is help others with their psychological health. They go to school just to learn about this and are dedicated to it.

They also have to do mandatory therapy themselves during their psychotherapy training, which is not always the case with a counselling psychologist.

Becoming a certified psychotherapist involves a psychotherapy certification and then a Masters degree, studying for at least four years if not far more. Some do additional training to also work with couples and families.

A psychotherapist is a good fit if you:

  • suffer general anxiety or depression
  • want to understand yourself better
  • have a difficult past you want to resolve
  • have been diagnosed with a disorder and referred on for treatment.


In the UK, a counsellor can be similar to a psychotherapist. But counsellors might be more inclined to work with general issues over difficult or complex ones.

The training to be a counsellor also tends to be shorter, at three years instead of four or more. And some counselling courses involve less theory than a psychotherapy course, and are offered at colleges instead of university. But not always. There are, for example, MAs in counselling.

To further complicate things, some people who are actually trained psychotherapists might prefer to call themselves counsellors. So it’s best to look at a therapist's exact training, or ask questions if you aren’t sure.

A counsellor is a good idea if:

  • want to understand yourself better
  • need help with a certain issue life self-esteem, bereavement, or your career
  • suffer mild depression or anxiety but not at the level of a disorder
  • are on a budget (counselling is sometimes cheaper than psychotherapy).


A coach isn’t actually considered a 'talk therapist', but it’s worth mentioning them as there can be substantial crossover. And they might be better for your requirements.

A coach focuses on helping you clarify and reach life goals over a focus on helping you understand yourself. And they work with current day issues, not the past.

Some modern types of psychotherapy are also present-day focussed and goal focussed. And both a coach and a psychotherapist learn how to ask good questions and listen intently. Furthermore, some coaching courses briefly look at the different forms of talk therapy as part of their training.

But coaching training is usually a year long at most. And a coach is not equipped to help with mental health disorders or deep-rooted issues.

A coach is a good fit if you want to:

  • move forward faster in life
  • get ‘unstuck’
  • find clarity on what you really want
  • harness your inner resources
  • develop resiliency
  • sort out a practical and current issue.

The most important thing?

Remember that therapy is at heart a relationship. Regardless of whether they call themselves a counsellor or psychotherapist, you need to feel you can at least get along with your talk therapist, and grow to trust them. Do check their training and qualifications, and ask all and any questions you have. But also try several sessions to see if it's a 'click'.

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