Psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor & Co.: how to choose


When we are not comfortable in our skin or life has become too complicated for us, the psychologist, the psychotherapist, the counselor are our “lifeline”. And without paying too much attention to the title of the professional, we turn to those who inspire us with confidence or who have been recommended to us by the usual tam tam of acquaintances.

It is normal to do this: after all, in the common mentality, the terms such as psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist and counselor are mistakenly considered interchangeable to ensure mental well-being. In reality, there is a big difference between one professional figure and another, which is important to know in order to define the type of help we (really) need and can receive. Each of them, in fact, has a specific preparation and expertise in terms of mental health. For this, TipsForWomens has created a mini orientation guide to choose the best help to solve our problem.

The psychologist

He is not a doctor, but a health professional with a degree in Psychology enrolled in the professional register of psychologists after passing the state exam and completing a 1-year internship. And, given that his work is focused on the functioning of the mind in all its facets (physiological, psychological, relational, environmental), we need it to understand, through a series of interviews and even psycho-aptitude tests, why we make certain choices .

In fact, the psychologist is one human behavior specialist, which helps to get to know ourselves and others better, based on family history, past experiences, personality characteristics. Consequentially, it directs us to think and act more consciously, congruously and effectively.

Alright, so, consult a psychologist first, when an “inner” crunch is felt, precisely to assess the nature of the discomfort. At this point, psychological sessions may be enough to get us back on track or the psychologist himself can direct us towards psychotherapy or psychiatric counseling. Not being a doctor, however, cannot prescribe drugs.

The psychotherapist

For a higher level of “suffering” there is the psychotherapist: he, in fact, has specific postgraduate training (in medicine or psychology) of 4 years at university specialization schools or those recognized by the MIUR, which enables him to “work” on the psychic and behavioral mechanisms that have produced a psycho-pathological disorder such as anxiety, depression, phobias, eating disorders, etc. . His task is to restore our mental balance, and he does it through the methods indicated by his training school: some use traditional psychoanalytic therapy, others relational or Gestalt therapy, many cognitive-behavioral ones. Unless he’s a doctor, he too can’t prescribe psychiatric drugs.

The psychoanalyst

How many times have we said “I’m going to the psychoanalyst” and then it wasn’t exactly like that? In reality, the psychoanalyst is but one psychotherapist with a specific orientation: works on mental illness through the techniques of Freudian theory, which provides, just to cite the most typical examples, a strong weekly frequency of interviews (from 3 to 5 per week), the use of a couch to lie down on, the use of some cognitive tools (such as dream interpretation, free associations, etc.).

The psychiatrist

If psychotherapy sessions are not enough or a person has symptoms that compromise normal life, the psychiatrist intervenes. This is specialized doctor (in psychiatrist, in fact) who evaluates and treats psyche disorders (such as mood, obsessive-compulsive, sleep, psychotic disorders, addictions to alcohol or drugs, impulse control, etc.) under the biological-organic profile.

In other words, the psychiatrist considers mental illnesses as the result of a malfunction, at a biochemical level, of the central nervous system and he can prescribe medications to bring the situation back on track. However, it is not a question of a professional aimed only at the most serious cases, as often he and the psychotherapist – in several cases the psychiatrist also has the qualification of psychotherapist – act in tandem on the same problem: the psychiatrist prescribes therapy that acts on the physiological mechanisms underlying psychic suffering, the psychotherapist on the mental ones with clinical interviews and other non-pharmacological tools, with a view to integrating mind and body.

The counselor

This profession, born in America in the fifties and not yet recognized in Italy, is practiced by those who have attended a three-year private course and a related internship. When should you contact a counselor? In the moment in which we are essentially fine but, at the same time, we have a specific problem, a doubt, an uncertainty in our daily life on which we keep going around in circles. Within 5-6 meetings, without making either a diagnosis or an analysis, this technician can assist us to clarify our ideas and find the solution on our own. In other words: counseling is a “technical” support for its own sake, to ask for that immediate quid that alone we are unable to focus, to make jump out. However, if our problem repeats itself systematically, then it is better to contact a psychotherapist specialized in brief behavioral therapies, suitable for tackling specific problems such as sleep disorders or phobias in general. Here the causes are investigated and complete solution techniques are brought into play.