NHS Careers > Explore by career > Psychological therapies > Differences between psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy

Differences between psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy

There are significant differences between psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy roles and they tend to deal with different types of problems, although there is also considerable overlap in their work.

Below is a brief description of each of the careers and you can visit our pages on psychology and psychotherapy for more information. 

What is psychology?

Psychology is the study of people: how they think, how they act, react and interact. Psychology is concerned with all aspects of behaviour and the thoughts, feelings and motivation underlying such behaviour.

Psychology is a discipline that is firstly concerned with the normal functioning of the mind and has explored areas such as learning, remembering and the normal psychological development of children. Psychology is one of the fastest growing university subjects and is becoming increasingly available in schools and colleges.

Psychologists deal with the way the mind works and can specialise in a number of areas, such as mental health and educational and occupational psychology.

Psychologists are not usually medically qualified and only a small proportion of people studying psychology degrees will go on to work with patients.

What is psychiatry?

Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders and their diagnosis, management and prevention. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have qualified in psychiatry. They often combine a broad general caseload alongside an area of special expertise and research.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is conducted with individuals, groups, couples and families. Psychotherapists help people to overcome stress, emotional and relationship problems or troublesome habits.

There are many different approaches in psychotherapy, or talking therapies, which include:

    • cognitive behavioural therapies
    • psychoanalytic therapies
    • psychodynamic therapies
    • systemic and family psychotherapy
    • arts and play therapies
    • humanistic and integrative psychotherapies
    • hypno-psychotherapy
    • experiential constructivist therapies

A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy. Increasingly, there are a number of psychotherapists who do not have backgrounds in the above fields, but who have undertaken in depth training in this area.

Consultant psychiatrists in psychotherapy are medical doctors who have qualified in psychiatry and then undertaken a three or four-year specialist training in psychotherapy. Their role is in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with psychiatric illnesses.