Differences and how to choose



A psychotherapist has specialized training in the treatment of mental disorders. They use talk therapy to help people find better ways to cope with emotional issues and overcome unhealthy behaviors or thought patterns.

Psychotherapists can be psychiatrists or psychologists. A psychiatrist offers therapy, but qualified doctors can also prescribe medication to treat mental disorders. On the other hand, a psychologist focuses only on psychotherapy and behavioral interventions.

There is no consensus on how to group psychotherapists by type, but it can be helpful to think of them as divided into several camps when trying to decide which type you need.

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Types of psychotherapy

There are five types of psychotherapy, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT works on three basic principles that deal with how a person thinks, their behavior patterns, and how they cope with trauma or psychological issues. For many, unnecessary thought patterns, behavior and coping lead to psychological distress, and CBT aims to help patients learn to change their own problematic behaviors, thoughts, and coping mechanisms.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT teaches patients how to accept that their behaviors and experiences are valid and how to change their behaviors to move forward in a positive way. It is designed to reprogram the patient’s mind when it comes to facing and reacting to stressful situations or psychological distress.
  • Humanist therapy: There are three types of humanistic therapy: client-centered therapy, gestalt therapy, and existential therapy. Client-Centered Therapy revolves around rejecting the idea that therapists are experts in their patients’ minds. It emphasizes attention, interest, and concern in a way that allows people to make their own choices. Gestalt therapy encourages patients to accept that they are responsible for themselves, and it promotes awareness of being in the moment. Existential therapy has a strong focus on self-determination and free will, as well as finding meaning in a patient’s life. All three focus on the patient and emphasize their ability to help themselves.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how people’s past experiences affect their current behavior. It is designed to force patients to look within and be aware of their behaviors. In this type of therapy, patients examine past relationships and how they guide their current behaviors.
  • Holistic therapy: Holistic therapy uses more than one type of therapy. Psychotherapists who practice holistic therapy take a well-balanced approach by mixing different elements of the approaches so that they can tailor the treatments to the needs of the patient.

Psychotherapy can be helpful in treating many mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, phobias, and personality disorders.

Types of diplomas

There are a number of degrees psychotherapists can earn, including:

  • Certified Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): Obtaining a master’s degree in social work and passing a state licensing exam are generally required to become a licensed clinical social worker. Social workers work with all types of patients, but many specialize in one area, such as adults or children. They also help their clients find other resources in their community.
  • Certified Professional Counselor (LPC) or Certified Mental Health Counselor (LMHC): These psychotherapists hold a master’s degree in counseling or psychology and must pass a state licensing exam. They use psychotherapy and individual interventions to help patients.
  • Certified Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): These types of psychotherapists focus on treating mental health issues related to a person’s family and relationships. LMFTs must obtain a master’s degree and two years of clinical experience. They must also pass a state licensing exam.
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD; psychologist): Psychotherapists with a doctorate in psychology are heavily trained in the scientific study of psychology, but use their training in their practice. To be accepted into a PsyD program, students must first obtain a bachelor’s degree and most likely a master’s degree. The program lasts four to six years. They must also be approved by the State.
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Doctorate in Psychology; Psychologist): A doctorate in psychology focuses on the scientific research of psychotherapy. Those with this degree tend to pursue careers in research or teaching. The program lasts approximately five to eight years after earning a master’s or bachelor’s degree and requires a state license with a certification option.
  • Psychiatrist (MD): Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. To become a psychiatrist, a person must attend medical school and complete a residency program.


While there are many types of psychotherapies available, psychotherapists often specialize in specific mental disorders, such as eating disorders or substance abuse. It is also possible to find psychotherapists who treat people who have experienced similar life events, such as a psychotherapist who only works with members of the LGBTQ community.

How to choose

Specific questions you should ask yourself that can help you narrow your search for a psychotherapist include:

  • What types of identifiers are important to you: If you are looking for a psychotherapist who can prescribe medication, you will want to see a psychiatrist. If you are looking for help with advocacy in the community, then a licensed clinical social worker or licensed professional counselor may be best for you.
  • What type of therapy do you need: If you need therapy based on the specific type of mental disorder you have, it would be best to find someone who specializes in that area.
  • What type of person would work best with you: You can also consider the gender, religion or age of your psychotherapist. For example, if you are a young woman who has experienced trauma, talking to a woman can make you more comfortable.
  • What type of therapy do you think will work best for you: The therapeutic approach is also an essential factor to consider. For example, if you are looking to overcome a phobia, behavior therapy may be the best. If you are trying to change unhealthy behaviors, you may want psychodynamic therapy.

Questions to ask

Before you meet your psychotherapist, you may want to ask them a few general questions to see if they are right for you, such as:

  • Are you fired?
  • What is your level of training?
  • What therapeutic approach do you use?
  • How many patients have you treated with my specific problem?
  • What is your speciality?
  • How much does each session cost?
  • Can you provide a prescription if needed?

These questions will help you refine your search. Finding the right therapist is essential to make sure that the treatment you are receiving is the type that will work for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do psychotherapists cost?

The cost of psychotherapists varies depending on your location. In general, a licensed clinical social worker or mental health counselor would cost less than a psychologist, and a psychologist would cost less than a psychiatrist.

What form of psychotherapy has had particularly good results in the treatment of phobias and compulsions?

The best type of therapy for phobias and compulsions is behavior therapy. In the case of phobias, which are irrational fears or aversions to specific objects or situations, desensitization therapy will work. Desensitization therapy exposes people to their phobia until they are no longer afraid.

In the case of compulsions, which are repetitive period-related behaviors, operant conditioning can be used to help reward a person for avoiding the compulsion. Cognitive therapy is another choice of aid for compulsions because it works by addressing thoughts of the compulsion as opposed to the action itself.

Who invented psychotherapy?

Psychoanalysis was first introduced in the 1800s by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. However, evidence suggests that it has been around for much longer. The ancient Greeks were the first to recognize mental illness and to attempt to treat it in various ways.


Psychotherapists can specialize in specific types of patients and practice different forms of therapy. When looking for a psychotherapist, consider finding one that focuses on the type of therapy that meets your mental health needs.



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