Psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist – what are the differences?


It is not so easy to find your way through this “psycho jungle”. Do you know the differences between psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists? In the following, you will learn what exactly distinguishes these professions.

It is not so easy to find your way through this “psycho jungle”. Do you know the differences between psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist? In the following, you will learn what exactly distinguishes these professions.


Psychologists have completed a psychology degree with a Diploma (Dipl.) or Master of Science (MSc.). However, this does not entitle them to treat mental illnesses independently in psychotherapy. Under the supervision of a licensed psychotherapist (see below), or within the framework of training as a psychotherapist, it is also possible for psychologists to treat mental illnesses psychotherapeutically.

Psychologists are allowed to offer psychological counseling for crises and problems that are not based on a mental illness. Thus, psychologists without additional psychotherapeutic training are usually found in counseling centers.

Note: The term “psychological consultant” is not protected in Germany. Members of other professions, without a psychological degree or sound training, can also call themselves this and, for example, offer coaching and consulting on certain topics.


Psychological psychotherapists are psychologists who, after completing their studies (Dipl. or MSc.), have completed a so-called licensing training to become a psychotherapist. The licensing training comprises a basic training of at least 3 years, in which, in addition to theoretical teaching units, 2400 hours of practical training under supervision must be completed. After successful completion of the licensure, psychological psychotherapists are entitled to offer psychotherapeutic treatments independently and to bill the health insurance companies for these treatments.

Medical psychotherapists have studied medicine and have specialized in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy through further medical training, or have obtained additional further training in psychotherapy. Thus, they are authorized to treat mental illnesses through psychotherapy and to bill the health insurance companies. Unlike psychological psychotherapists, they are also authorized to prescribe medication due to their medical studies.


Psychiatrists have studied medicine and subsequently obtained a specialist qualification in psychiatry and psychotherapy. Psychiatrists focus on the physical, medical and drug treatment of mental illnesses. Psychotherapy is not usually offered by psychiatrists. However, psychiatrists are usually in close contact with the psychotherapists treating their patients.

Alternative practitioner for psychotherapy

To obtain a so-called healing license as an alternative practitioner (Heilpraktiker), no university studies are required. In other words, Heilpraktiker:in have usually studied neither psychology nor medicine. Only a self-study with subsequent examination at the health department is necessary. Heilpraktiker:innen have therefore not learned any scientifically recognized methods for the treatment of mental illnesses. This can make a big difference in the quality of treatment.

Officially, members of this professional group are not allowed to call themselves “psychotherapist”, but they can add this to their professional title. Thus, for example, one often reads “practice for psychotherapy according to the Heilpraktikergesetz“, “Heilpraktiker:in für Psychotherapie” or “admitted to psychotherapy according to the Heilpraktikergesetz“.

When looking for a therapy place, we recommend that you also inform yourself about the qualifications of the respective therapist. These can usually be found on homepages in the “About me/the person” section. Don’t be afraid to ask about this directly in a conversation.

And who do I contact now with my request?

As a first point of contact, it is advisable to contact your family doctor. As a rule, your family doctor has been with you for a while and knows your medical history. Together with you, he or she can assess what kind of support you need and help you take the appropriate steps.

Note: Many mental illnesses are accompanied, influenced or possibly caused by physical symptoms. Therefore, it is also important to have physical symptoms clarified by your family doctor.

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