It is easy to lose your bearings, when faced with the jungle of different health professions. Although many people notice that they are not feeling well and that they need help, they do not know where to go. There are psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and then there are also psychologists – but who is the right person to contact now? First of all, you should know the difference between them in order to make a well-grounded decision:

In most cases, the family doctor or general practitioner is the optimal first port of call if you suspect that you might be suffering from depression. They will test you or refer you to a specialist to rule out physical causes for your symptoms. If psychotherapy is needed, they can also make a referral.

Psychiatrists are always doctors, i.e. they have completed a degree in medicine and then completed specialist medical training in psychiatry. This means that they are authorized to prescribe medication and make diagnoses. During their training they also acquire psychotherapeutic knowledge and can also use psychotherapy (which is often referred to as “talking therapy”). The psychiatrist is the right choice if there is a disorder that requires both psychotherapeutic and medicinal treatment. If you are unsure whether this is the case for you, you can have this clarified by the psychiatrist.

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Neurologists, like psychiatrists, have also studied medicine with subsequent specialist training – however, their treatment focuses on nerve diseases and not on mental disorders. For example, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or polyneuropathies, i.e. sensory disorders of the nerves, are typically treated by a neurologist. However, a neurologist can also examine brain activity, e.g. by means of an EEG. This can be an important step towards correct diagnosis for people with sleep disorders or depressive symptoms. The neurologist can therefore play a role in preliminary examinations and prescribe medication, but is not authorized to carry out psychotherapy on the patient. Some doctors are psychiatrists and neurologists at the same time, because until about 10 years ago, the training for the two branches was not yet separated.

Psychologists, on the other hand, have completed a wide-ranging study of psychology; although therapeutic content is also taught, this are not comprehensive enough to enable them to treat you. It is also not possible for psychologists to prescribe medication. Pure psychologists can therefore work primarily in an advisory capacity or in diagnostics. They are therefore often found in counselling centers or clinics. If you want to get some initial professional advice or an assessment, or if you are in a crisis, for example, a psychologist can be your first point of contact. As soon as you have a medical disorder and therapy is started, the work of the psychologist stops.

The role of the psychotherapist is the one that differs most from country to country. In Germany, for example, psychotherapy training currently still requires you to be a psychologist, i.e. have a degree in psychology. The psychotherapist can thus be seen as a psychologist with a therapeutic specialization. In Austria, on the other hand, the previously completed higher education qualification can also be obtained in other areas. Psychotherapists may also give diagnoses and, of course, treat patients, but may not prescribe any medication. Psychotherapists differ from each other in the use of different forms of therapy. Depending on the disorder, different therapies are recommended. If therapy without medication is suggested to you, then the psychotherapist is your first choice.

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