The world of psychology and psychological services is fraught with confusion; blurred boundaries, overlaps are everywhere. One particularly annoying area of confusion lies in terminology. For example, when the terms psychologist, psychotherapist, counselor and psychiatrist are used interchangeably, how can a person seeking help even begin understand who to go to in order to cater for their own personal needs?
I am a psychotherapist…well, that is what I call myself. In my opinion, this gives me a little more prestige than being called a counselor. In actual fact, the two professions are identical. However, there appears to be a perception that counselors are somewhat lower down the food chain than psychotherapists; that they are less professionally trained and skilled. The fact of the matter is that this perception simply isn’t true and does the whole counseling profession a huge disservice. Still, because I run my own practice, I need to market myself ; consequently, I have to take this this perception into account and therefore “elevate” myself to the ‘status’ of psychotherapist.
Traditionally, psychologists have the same length of training as counselors and psychotherapists (?). However, the focus for psychologists tends to be more on theory, research and testing. Psychologists used to be the main guardians of psychological testing (although some psychiatrists were also certified to do this). Nowadays, counselors/psychotherapists, as a result of their training, are also certified to conduct psychological testing. Indeed, there is great demand for such testing as it is no longer used just for the diagnosis of psychological problems, but also for educational purposes, career counseling, and recruitment.
Psychiatrists probably deviate the most from the other branches of the psychology professions as they were initially trained as doctors before entering the world of psychology. Because if their medical background, they , unlike psychotherapists and counselors , are allowed to write prescriptions. They are, therefore, not surprisingly, quite often found in hospitals. Some do, also, practice in the wider community. Significantly, because of their grounding in medicine, they often appear to think in a totally different way to counselors/ psychotherapists.
This brings us to the questionable theoretical grounds on which all psychological service practitioners stand. Namely, that of to which psychological theory they adhere. Since Freud, there have been so many different psychological constructs developed that individual professionals have embraced as the real “truth” about human behavior. Can they all be right? For the sake of conciseness, I’ll just list the broader theoretical categories involved: There are Behavioral theories, Cognitive theories, Developmental theories, Humanistic, Personality and Social theories. Most practitioners choose those theories that make most sense to them and which also fit their own personalities. Not surprisingly, the two major predictors of which theory a practitioner will choose are the length of time spent in training and the predominant theory taught on their training program. Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) is probably the most in vogue at the moment. This may be because it is easier to assess the success or failure of this theory when it is put into practice than it is with other theories. Another factor, however, is that, as the number of therapy sessions can be predicted in advance, CBT is loved by insurance companies. Payment schedules are predicable and limited by standard treatment times. This being said, CBT, on its own, may not be enough for every client. I love psychology and can see how looking through different lenses, i.e. by not restricting myself to one particular theory, might just allow me to see the individual as a whole person. So, I am what is called an “eclectic” practitioner – I use ideas from all the different theories available as and when they seem appropriate. I also use techniques that are slightly “out of the box” to help people make the changes they want to make.