Mental well-being has become a hot topic for today’s society, and in Singapore’s fast-paced environment, there’s more people taking steps to nurture their mental health. While seeking out avenues, some may come across the terms “psychotherapist” vs. “psychologist”. The two may seem similar and some people even use them interchangeably, but the truth is that these two roles have very distinct responsibilities. Understanding the differences between a psychotherapist vs. psychologist means you’ll be better helped by someone suited for your situation.
If you’re taking steps to look for a professional to aid you in your mental health journey - congratulations. But here is what you should know and consider before deciding if you require a psychotherapist or psychologist in Singapore.
Psychologists: Most often found in clinical settings - whether institutionally or privately - psychologists often have a broader scope of practice. However, one key difference they offer is that they provide psychological assessments, diagnosing mental health disorders, and offering therapeutic interventions and treatments. They are often equipped to work with a wide range of mental health issues and may add counselling or psychotherapy as part of their practice.
Psychotherapists: In contrast, psychotherapists primarily focus on providing therapy and counselling services. They often work with individuals to address emotional, behavioural, and psychological issues. This means that they are more often the first step for someone seeking professional guidance. Because of this, psychotherapists tend towards specialty themes, such as trauma, addiction, relationship problems, or stress management. And while they may not conduct formal psychological assessments or make diagnoses, their access to various therapeutic interventions means they are able to handle most cases. For this reason, you can usually see them at public support groups, community groups, or working alongside other healthcare professionals or privately.
Psychologists: Psychologists are able to be in a position to make assessments, diagnose and recommend because they typically hold advanced degrees, such as a Master's or Ph.D. in psychology. In Singapore, the journey includes completing a Bachelor’s degree, practising as an intern, achieving your Master’s, before registering with the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) after at least 400 hours of interaction with psychology clients (for one). Those seeking further specialty in areas can pursue postdoctoral studies. This intensive but thorough academic path includes extensive training in research, psychological assessments, and various therapeutic approaches, which is what qualifies them to make the important calls they do.
Psychotherapists: Psychotherapists, on the other hand, come from diverse educational backgrounds. They usually have a degree at the minimum, but these can be more towards subjects in counselling, social work, psychiatry, psychology, and similarly related fields. Their academic focus tends towards specialised training in therapeutic approaches. This could be anything from cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy, family therapy, to even integrative and holistic therapies. This can also evolve over time. While they may not have the same extensive research background as psychologists, psychotherapists can deliver counselling and support therapy services to their clients.
Psychologists: A psychologist’s intensive research in their education route means they tend to apply evidence-based therapeutic approaches grounded in research. Some examples include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT). While there are some clients that might feel this approach may be limiting as it takes findings from old studies, it is not the case. It is actually the responsibility of the psychologist to keep themselves up-to-date with current literature and studies, and ensure that all under their care receive the latest recommendations. Due to their analytical nature, some may feel that psychologists have a more detached relationship with their clients.
Psychotherapists: Psychotherapists draw from a wide range of therapeutic models based on their training and specialisation. Some common approaches include psychodynamic therapy, person-centred therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, family systems therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions. They are more likely to use evolving and less-tested methods as part of their tools, especially if they come from the school of thought that they are aligned with. And because they focus on supportive work, psychotherapists often bond with their clients as part of their work to bring a stronger therapeutic relationship to better explore their emotions and thoughts.
Psychologists: Psychologists are typically regulated and licensed by professional organisations in their respective countries or states. In Singapore, practising psychologists will likely want to register with the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) and Singapore Register of Psychologists (SRP) to obtain improved credibility.
Psychotherapists: The broad array of psychotherapists and their therapies often mean licensing is also more varied, and can depend on the country, region, educational background and type of therapy. For instance, those with counselling backgrounds may be members of the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC). There is no unifying regulatory body. Sometimes, there are professional associations related to their field of study that can help with regulation. Other times, they may just be working under the supervision of licensed mental health professionals. It is best to check out their credential before you begin work with them.
In summary, psychotherapists and psychologists in Singapore play vital roles in supporting our mental health and well-being. While psychologists are extensively trained in research, and are qualified to give assessments and therapeutic interventions, psychotherapists focus on providing supportive work like counselling and therapy services.
One general rule of thumb is that, if you are not referred by any medical professionals, you might wish to speak to a psychotherapist first. It allows you to manage your existing stresses and they may help you to determine if a meeting with a psychologist is needed. However, if you are after a diagnosis or suspect you have more serious mental health issues, you can directly consult with a psychologist.
With this knowledge, we hope you are now better equipped to make informed decisions when seeking therapeutic support.
Avail yourself to the many avenues and therapy support, and speak to the trained professionals at The Counselling Place.
The Counselling Place