How Do You Distinguish a Psychiatrist, a Psychologist, and a Psychotherapist?

If you are planning to undergo either a medical treatment or a series of counselling sessions, it’s important that you know how to distinguish between two specialists who help people with psychological and mental illnesses. Where do you go for a marriage counselling if you and your spouse are having problems? And how do you know who turn to if your child needs a child psychologist?

Let’s look at the different responsibilities of a psychiatrist, psychologist, and psychotherapist.


A psychiatrist in Singapore is classified as a medical doctor because they also train in general practices related to medicine. In other words, a psychiatrist is a medical specialist who is trained to observe distressing conditions based on a set of diagnostic tools. They will need to find out the cause behind the medical condition and to find the best ways to address them. For example, before confirming that the patient has a depression, they will need to conduct various tests to rule out other possible health conditions that might be causing the symptoms.

In most cases, the psychiatrist will work with patients who have severe mental disorders because they will require medical treatment other than counselling. Remember that only a psychiatrist can prescribe medications, not a psychologist, during your treatment. In short, a psychiatrist is concerned with addressing the chemical imbalance that cause mental and emotional distress.

Most psychiatrists will rely on medication and counselling as part of the treatment, because they are concerned with the physiological mechanisms of the emotional and mental illnesses. Most patients with severe mental and emotional problems are referred to a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist, especially if the physiological manifestations are affecting the quality of life of the person.

A psychiatrist might refer the patient to a licensed psychologist if it is deemed necessary. It is not unusual for both specialists to work in tandem when treating the behavioral and clinical symptoms in a patient, especially if the patient has relationship problems that contribute to the illness. In such cases, the psychiatrist or child psychologist in Singapore will recommend a marriage counselling or a relationship counselling.


A clinical psychologist has a degree in psychology, but also has experience and training in healthcare and clinical settings. They focus on specific psychological therapy models, specifically studying the psychological mechanisms of the state of a person’s mind, instead of the physiological mechanisms which are the focus of the psychiatrists. In short, the psychologist is concerned with the feelings, thoughts and the mental health of the patient. Their focus of study includes personality development, psychological research, and the history of psychological problems.

This means that you might be referred to a recommended psychologist in Singapore if your problems can best be addressed with a specific psychological therapy. They are also further trained with the different methods of treatment, psychological theory, behavioral therapy, problem-solving techniques, and analytical testing. However, a psychologist or any specialist in the psychology center without a training in medicine such a psychiatrist cannot prescribe medications for you. Psychologists, like psychiatrists, also work with a different range of problems and will perform either one-on-one or group therapy sessions during your treatment.

The best psychologist like those at in Singapore are also trained and certified professionals who can conduct psychological testing to help determine the type of psychotherapy to treat any mental and emotional distress. For example, if your initial diagnosis is depression, the psychologist will track your eating patterns, sleep problems, recurring negative thoughts, and general mental well-being before confirming the diagnosis.

Make sure that you talk to a licensed psychologist at a psychology center in Singapore. The psychologist might also refer the patient to a psychiatrist if it is determined that the person also needs medical treatment of the physiological symptoms.


A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist or a psychologist in training and foundation, but there are psychotherapists who do not have any training in both fields. That is because psychotherapy requires a different set of training skills from the other two specialists. Their specialty will depend on the psychotherapeutic approaches they want to focus on, most of which specialize on specific cognitive, behavioral, and mental problems. For example, a child psychologist in Singapore may be trained in a specific psychotherapeutic approach to help children in dealing with traumatic experiences, or a relationship counselling expert might also use a specific approach for victims of domestic abuse. The counselling may be done one-on-one or with a group of people with similar problems as part of the psychoanalytic therapy.

Your general physician in Singapore might refer you to a psychotherapist if he/she determined that you need psychological instead of medical treatment. However, it is also possible for a psychotherapist if he/she has a degree in medicine to prescribe medication while you’re undergoing counselling. Psychotherapy is grouped into five major categories such as the following: behavior therapy, psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, humanistic therapy, cognitive therapy, and holistic or integrative therapy.

Behavior therapy focuses on the role of learning when it comes to behavior, while psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies focus on the unconscious motivations and meaning to address problems in feelings, thoughts, and behavior. Humanistic therapy helps people approach problems through rational decision-making, while cognitive therapy focuses on people’s thoughts instead of the actions. Holistic therapy uses any of the mentioned approaches during the treatment.

Which Specialist Do You Need?

But how do you know if you are approaching the right specialist to help you with your problem? Generally, patients are advised to talk to a general physician first because they have the expertise to determine which specialist you should approach. The physician will recommend a patient to a psychiatrist for example, if the person has severe mental health issues such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and others.

You will be recommended to a psychologist if the physician thinks your mental health problem will not need medication or if the patient does not want to take any medication. Most psychologists are psychotherapists who specialize in talk therapy, a type of collaborative treatment such as relationship counselling and marriage counselling.