You have a problem and could really use someone to talk to. You really need the help but you find yourself lingering on the idea of calling a therapist, psychologist, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, life coach…? What’s the difference anyway? How do you know? Will he/she be good, will the dynamics fit, are they going to understand you well enough? Who should you even call?
I have experienced that many people do not understand the difference and are completely clueless who to contact when in need. Sometimes they even decide to leave it and not bother since it is too complicated and takes too long to find someone.
In this article I would like to clarify the differences between the above mentioned professions, what to expect, what to look for and how to find contacts. I hope this will make it easier for you to make the right pick for you and speed up the process.
What’s the difference?
Psychotherapist – A psychotherapist focuses on the treatment of mental disorders by psychological rather than medical means. In Austria there are 23 recognized different types of psychotherapy where different Psychoanalytic Therapies and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies are the most popular. A psychotherapist has a special education, carrying out comprehensive, deliberate, planned treatment of psychosocial or psychosomatic behavioral disorders and pathogenic conditions of scientific psychotherapeutic methods interacting with one or more patients and one or more psychotherapists with the aim to alleviate existing symptoms or to eliminate and change dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes and promote the maturation, development and health of those treated.
Psychiatrist/ Neurologist – A psychiatrist or rather a neurologist (Specialist in Psychiatry and Neurology), will not necessarily be qualified as a psychotherapist, instead is specialized in diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of severe mental and neurological disorders (such as personality disorders and psychoses) although they mainly focus on drug treatment (psychotropic).
Psychologist – Psychologists deal with the experiences, behaviors, conscious and unconscious processes of people and research psychological processes. Clinical psychologists deal with the prevention of mental disorders, carry out clinical-psychological diagnosis, offer psychological advice and assistance on somatic and mental illnesses. The difference to psychotherapists is that they do not have that training and are not specialized on a specific psychotherapy direction for long term therapy sessions.
Coach – A coach mainly focuses on clarifying career goals as well as the development of ways to achieve this.
What to expect?
Personal problems cannot be compared to a simple throat ache that is treated after taking one single table. In order for therapy to be successful, a long term therapy may be required. It is important to figure out what you personally feel is right for you. Some prefer medication as well as psychotherapy, some prefer one over the other. Differences mainly exist with regard to the concepts of different approaches, the way the therapist works and how the therapeutic relationship develops.
The first meeting serves to get to know one another. Occasionally an introduction to the facets of therapy topics will be clarified. In the first consultation, no treatment contract is usually derived unless both agree to one. You may have to pay for the first session, although some offer the initial meeting for free. However, you are still free to decide if you want this person as your therapist or not. The therapist should tell you how much he charges for each session (usually 50 minutes) and clarify you about the basic conditions. You are free to ask them questions about their therapeutic method and working operations. A professional therapist will be open to answer these question, may ask why you are interested and why you are asking these questions but should put effort into giving you a clear and understood response. Did you talk about goals of therapy and the type of goals you would like to reach? Often it is also good to find out approximately how long therapy will take. Do you feel that the therapist is taking you seriously and feel to be treated as an equal partner in the treatment process? Do you feel comfortable and well cared for? Should you feel unpleasant or as if you are put under pressure you should mention that immediately. If nothing changes and you still feel uncomfortable, you should consult them to arrange a termination of therapy.
After a few session you can ask yourself if you are noticing any improvements, a reduction of symptoms, does it seem plausible to find a solution? Depending on the severity of the problem or disorder, apart from psychoanalytic long-term therapy, therapy will usually consist of 20 to 100 sessions on average. Thus if after 10-20 session you still do not even feel the idea that a relief can be seen, it is worth questioning if this therapist is really right for you.
Ideally, psychotherapy ends when the targeted solution has been reached or a satisfactory first step could be carried out (interruption of therapy). Especially after prolonged therapies, it is typical to reflect on the chosen path in the final session and to “anchor” the achieved steps.
What to look for?
What mattes most in whomever you choose, is that the relationship between you and the professional fits. Studies have shown that a positive, trustworthy relationship between client and therapist plays a key role. The therapist should be able to give you a feeling of safety and mutual respect. Should you feel not to really be able to say what you would like to say, it may mean this therapist is not right for you. On the other hand, it could also be that you generally have big problems opening up towards others (for example with social anxiety or being sceptic asking for help from others) and find it hard talking about personal issues to a stranger. In this case, it may be beneficial to overcome this fear and open up to allow and promote improvement. Thus trust, effort from both sides and constructive mutual collaboration are what to look for in a therapeutic relationship.
How to find contacts
Below, I have posted websites where you can look for therapists and doctors. Another recommendation is the following address: A-1030 Wien, Löwenstraße 3/5/6, Tel. 01/5127090). They offer free advice of the most specialized therapists and what types of therapy are recommended. Otherwise I recommend talking to doctors you know, friends or acquaintances that have experience in therapy and can give you certain recommendations. The “Gesundheitsministerium” and “Bundesverband für Psychotherapie” also have a list of recognized psychotherapists in Austria which also describe what type of therapy they offer and in what areas they are specialized in, who offers therapy in another language etc. Best is to make an appointment with a therapist that offers a direction you like where you feel comfortable and get the feeling you could open up and trust this person.