What's the difference between a Psychotherapist and a Psychologist?

This is a question I get asked a lot.  It’s not that easy to answer because there are as many variations within psychotherapists and psychologists as there are between them, but I will have a go.


Generally, psychotherapy refers to any kind of therapy which is psychotherapeutic.  It normally refers to talking therapies.  Many people can practice psychotherapy, including psychologists.   However to call yourself a Psychotherapist in Aotearoa New Zealand you need to be registered with the Psychotherapists Board of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the most common pathway for registration involves completing a Masters degree in Psychotherapy, which is a three- year full time programme.  Some people go on from undergraduate degrees in psychology to study psychotherapy.

The psychotherapy I offer is more of an art than a science, but it is a bit of both.  It involves the experience of being in relationship, of being heard, of being connected, and of making links with past experiences and relationships, although this won’t always be articulated, especially with children.  Thinking about this link with the past is called psychodynamic psychotherapy.  

Many psychotherapists privilege the idea of implicit nonverbal communication between therapist and client.  Psychotherapists use our intuition and our own emotional responses as clues to what is going on with our clients, and we hone these skills through own therapy, training, practice and supervision.  We also base our work in theories such as psychoanalysis, attachment theory, relational psychotherapy and indigenous therapies.  Psychotherapy is an academic discipline in its own right, with dedicated academic journals, research projects and effective evidence.


Psychology is the study of mind and behaviour and the term encompasses a broad range of world views and subjects. Like Psychotherapists, Psychologists are regulated, and must meet the requirements of their Board to call themselves a Psychologist.

Mental health is just one career pathway for an education in psychology.  It is probably more known for a scientific approach to mental health, where results can be quantified and analysed, and are hence named evidence-based.  Like psychotherapists, appropriately qualified and registered psychologists can treat mental, behavioural and emotional conditions.  In my experience, publically-funded mental health services in our country are based more on the ethos of psychology and the biomedical model than anything else.

Often psychologists use reasonably standardised techniques like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but they can offer many others.  Certain types of psychologist can also offer diagnosis of mental health conditions.  Psychotherapists make meaning of a client’s presentation, and develop a formulation based on theory for why they might present as they do, but we do not diagnose.

So, I hope I have given a fair description here.  I believe that both psychotherapists and psychologists make a valuable contribution to mental health care, alongside many others such as counsellors, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, social workers, nurses, support workers, tohunga, cultural workers, and spiritual healers.


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