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Understanding therapist titles: What is a psychotherapist?

by Sarah Graham
Thursday 20 November 2014
690 1931

When you're searching for a therapist on, you'll come across various different professional titles. It can be difficult to know what each title means - Do I need a psychologist or a counsellor? A psychoanalyst or a psychotherapist? - so, to clear things up, we asked a number of RSCPP therapists to explain what their title means and what you can expect from that type of therapist.

So what is a psychotherapist? Registered Psychotherapist Peter Cockersell explains:

A psychotherapist is someone who has been trained in the theory of how the 'psyche' - in other words, processes such as mental development, thinking, relating, feeling, experiencing - works, and who has had a number of years of supervised clinical practice under the scrutiny of a training organisation. They have then been judged as competent by a recognised professional body.

Psychotherapists may be trained primarily in psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, cognitive, Rogerian or other forms of psychotherapy but many are, in practice, 'integrative' - in other words they use different methods or techniques, or combinations of techniques, according to the particular client or situation they are working with.


How do psychotherapists work?

Psychotherapists offer 'sessions' - usually, but not always, around 50 minutes - where they sit and talk with you, with you the client usually doing most of the talking. It's about you, and what you want and need, not about the therapist! They may work only with individuals, or with couples, families or groups.

Psychotherapy is about you, and what you want and need.

Psychotherapists work with what you bring to the session, so it is up to you to say 'this is the problem I have that I would like help with', and the psychotherapist works with that. In the course of psychotherapy, other issues may come up that are related to, or underlie, the issue that you first brought. For example, you may initially come to talk about a problem with anxiety or a phobia, but it may turn out that underlying it is a particular relationship difficulty, and the psychotherapist will then work with you to try to resolve that, which in turn may resolve the anxiety or phobia.


How can psychotherapy help?

Psychotherapy is particularly useful for intractable problems - for things that you've tried other ways of dealing with but found they haven't worked (including, for example, medication or a different type of therapy). Psychotherapy is good at getting to the root of whatever is disturbing you, and helping you to find a way to better live your life - one that feels more comfortable for you, and that makes it easier for you to achieve the things that you want to in life.

Psychotherapy is good at getting to the root of whatever is disturbing you, and helping you to find a way to better live your life.

Psychotherapy is also good for working through difficult experiences helping you come to terms with what has happened and re-establish your self-belief and a sense that life is worthwhile.

One thing that is perhaps interesting to know about psychotherapists is that they have all had psychotherapy themselves, at least during their trainings, so they have at least some experience of being the client as well.

All psychotherapists follow a professional body's confidentiality guidelines and code of ethics.

Finding support

If you are concerned about the issues raised in this article then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 07 January 2015