If someone has problems with mental health (especially if they can’t solve them alone), it is good to seek help from a professional who will be able to offer the appropriate help. Who should we ask for help? How do psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists differ?
The official title of a psychologist is university graduate psychologist or graduate/master of psychology (by the Bologna System). The study programme of psychology in Slovenia is organised at the Faculties of Arts. If a psychologist works in the field of health care, they have typically obtained a specialisation in clinical psychology.
Psychologists can work in schools, social institutions, counselling services, companies, sports teams, prisons, health care institutions, research institutions, etc. Psychologists carry out psychological testing, assessments of an individual’s suitability for a certain workplace, the presence of a mental disorder, or an individual’s ability to integrate into a classroom.
Psychologists in health care carry out independent diagnostics and treatment of mental health problems and disorders. They can also carry out in-depth diagnostics when psychiatrists request them. They interview a person and carry out testing with psychology instruments. Psychologists usually perform psychological counselling aimed at people in difficult life situations. In counselling they use various techniques (e.g. motivational conversation, debriefing, elements of psychotherapy, mindfulness, role playing) to help someone better cope with a difficult situation. Psychologists don’t use drug treatments.
A psychiatrist has a doctorate in medicine and has obtained a specialisation in psychiatry after finishing studying at the Faculty of Medicine.
Psychiatrists are employed in the health care field. They work in health care centres, hospitals, or in independent practice. They are involved in diagnostics and treatment of severe mental disorders where they use medical treatment (they prescribe psychopharmacological drugs). They interview individuals and refer them to further treatment if needed. Psychiatrists usually don’t treat with counselling techniques based on a conversation and don’t carry out psychological testing.
In Slovenia, a psychotherapist has to finish a faculty program in the field of humanism (usually psychology, sociology, social work, and medicine) and finish a post-graduate study of psychotherapy.
Psychotherapists work at institutes, in health care, or in a private practice. They help people with mental health problems or disorders. They use various psychotherapeutic techniques that differ according to psychotherapeutic approach (e.g. psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioural therapy, gestalt therapy, transactional analysis, integrative psychotherapy, systemic family therapy). Psychotherapists help people with techniques based on conversation and relationship with the patient.
Whom to choose?
A lot of mental health professionals in Slovenia are also educated in more than one area (e.g. psychiatrists with psychotherapeutic knowledge). This means that they can combine approaches and techniques from different professions, which helps improve the efficacy of therapy. This is especially true for cases of severe and moderate depression. For these cases it has been shown that a combination of medical and psychotherapeutic treatment is the best course of action.
If someone like a partner has problems in a relationship, it is more efficient to choose a partner-family psychotherapist unless there are other existing mental disorders in the core of the problem. Companies and top athletes usually have psychologists on their teams rather than psychiatrists.
Unfortunately, there isn’t always a simple answer in choosing a mental health professional. When searching for the appropriate help, it is important that a patient and a professional create a good relationship. In general, a good relationship and mutual understanding is a prerequisite for the success of therapy.
In (acute) crisis, apart from the professionals discussed above, there are others who can help: counsellors, nurses, general practitioners, pedagogues, teachers, police officers, etc.
In Slovenia, the Psychological Activities Act and the Psychotherapeutic Activities Act are not yet in effect, and therefore psychological and psychotherapeutic services can be carried out by individuals without the appropriate basic education or training. It is important that we are careful in seeking help and we ask about the individual’s educational background, professional experience, and the competences of the service providers.
Telephone numbers for acute cases and a link to the list of Slovenian mental health professionals can be found on our SOS webpage.