Psychotherapy and Psychology – Definitions

Many people searching for a therapist ask what is the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychologist. In this blog I’m going to explain the definition of each and then the major differences.

Psychotherapy comes from the Ancient Greek psyche meaning “breath; spirit; soul” and therapeia means “healing; or medical treatment”.  The word psychology holds a very significant difference in the final part of the word being logos.  Both of these disciplines are to do with the soul or mind to use more modern language. However, while the emphasis with psychotherapy is upon healing, psychology is more about knowledge.  For this reason, the practice of these two areas of specialisation feels very different for the client.


Psychotherapists study the mind from a neurological and developmental perspective as well as generally having a wide range of therapeutic modalities from which to draw upon, depending upon client needs.   Whilst some psychotherapists use CBT, they generally draw on a more relational model that assumes that people’s well being improves and thrives when their relationships are based on respect, care, compassion and honesty.  This then becomes central to the therapeutic process including the relationship that develops between therapist and client.   The awareness that these attributes are often missing from relationships provides the fuel for healing.

There are many types of psychotherapists including:


      • relational

      • gestalt

      • schema

      • acceptance

      • commitment

      • dialectical behaviour

      • psychodynamic

    My area of specialty is in the field of psychodynamic psychotherapy because of its all-encompassing framework that acknowledges the multidimensional nature of the “self” that is part of the universal and cosmic reality of all life and that gets shaped in our early formative relationships with parents and caregivers.


    Psychologists have an education in the science of how people feel, behave and react. To know this, they study not only human behaviour but also how the mind works from a neurological perspective.  They become familiar with scientific experiments that have been conducted upon animals and from which human behaviours and mental conditions have been extrapolated.

    With an understanding of the mechanics of human behaviour, they then study a particular type of therapeutic intervention called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT is designed to provide people who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, and personality disorders, with tools and strategies to change negative thought patterns with the intention of better managing their everyday life

    Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

    Psychodynamic psychotherapy takes relational therapy to the next level. This is because it is concerned with how old relational patterns that were not satisfying or satisfactory repeat themselves throughout a person’s life by considering both past relationships and life events up until the present.  According to this theoretical framework, these old relational patterns are formed during the period of very early infancy. They most probably stretch further to experiences in the womb and then even further back to intergenerational patterns that existed in your parents, grandparents which are often informed by culture, religion and historical events at the time.  The wonderful thing about psychodynamic psychotherapy is that it acknowledges the interconnectedness between your personal psychology, your parents, your family and socioeconomic background.  It takes into account historical context, culture and your family and cultural heritage. It is all inclusive.

    Why choose a psychotherapist over a psychologist

    The reason that people actively seek out a psychotherapist, as opposed to a psychologist, is because they generally work in a less clinical and more relational therapeutic style. They are flexible and meet you where you are at, with no agenda as to where you need to be.  They are curious about you and want to get to know you as you are.  Psychotherapy training includes the in-depth study of the nervous system and how it responds under severe stress which goes a long way to explaining why people become anxious and depressed.

    Attachment theory which provides the framework for understanding the psychodynamics of relationship patterns, also forms a significant part of the training.  Attachment theory informs the basis of how we orient ourselves in life, because how we are responded to in early infancy either provides us with a secure base, a strong sense of identity and who we are, or not.  It is this history that forms the foundation of the therapy.

    Why choose a psychologist over a psychotherapist

    There are two types of psychologists: registered psychologists and clinical psychologists. Both of these qualifications are recognised by the medical profession and National Medicare System so that they accrue rebates within the healthcare scheme.  What this means is that if you receive a mental healthcare plan, you are entitled to a Medicare rebate. This rebate then funds almost half the cost of each session for 10 sessions.  Registered and clinical psychologists are also able to perform psychological assessments and provide diagnoses.  They do not however prescribe medications, that is the sole domain of psychiatrists.

    It is not unheard of for psychologists to do postgraduate trainings in psychotherapy.  This is something that you ask them if you want to find a psychotherapist for your healthcare plan. It might help to know though that psychotherapists will see you beyond the plan, so its worth doing some research into individual rates beyond the healthcare plan.

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