Q&A > Q: What is the difference between Psychotherapy, Psychiatry and Psychology?

Q: What is the difference between Psychotherapy, Psychiatry and Psychology?

posted on May 26, 2017

A: In Canada, psychotherapy is a form of treatment practised by a range of professionals, including physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses and other mental health practitioners.  Some provinces have strict rules about who can practise psychotherapy.  Some do not.

Psychiatry is a specialty branch of medicine.  Psychiatrists have the same basic medical training as other physicians, but then do at least 5 years of residency training in hospitals and clinics, learning to care for people with a wide range of mental health issues.  Psychotherapy is a mandatory part of their training, but may not be a large part of their post-residency practise.  Psychiatrists also diagnose and prescribe medications. 

General Practitioners (GP’s) or Family Physicians (FP’s) are also medical doctors who can diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medications, although in complicated cases, they may refer a patient to a Psychiatrist.  Depending on their interest and expertise, they may also practise psychotherapy.  (The designation of GP was used until about 1992, after which time, new medical graduates had to enter either a 2-year family practise residency or a 5-year specialty residency). 

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior.  A Psychologist is not a medical doctor and cannot prescribe medications, but has taken university-level training in psychology.  Clinical psychologists have a Master’s or PhD degree in psychology and have training in psychotherapy.  Unless a patient sees a psychologist in a hospital clinic, their visits are either paid out-of-pocket, or through third party insurance. 

It’s important to note that all these different mental health professionals may provide a similar quality of psychotherapeutic care, but that their respective availability varies from one region of the country to another.