There are times in life when our own resources are not enough to cope with difficulties. Choosing the right “helper” is determined by the nature and severity of the difficulties, which is not always easy to assess. Should you seek a psychologist? A coach? Or rather a psychiatrist? Uncertainty in the choice can cause us to postpone finding a solution to our problems. Therefore, let’s orient ourselves in this matter! In this article, we will explain the main differences and specificities of helping professions, define the areas they focus on, and reveal what to look out for when choosing a professional.

Specifics of individual professionals

Emergency medical care sees a person as a patient who is in a life-threatening situation. They deal with the most difficult and urgent cases by stabilizing the patient with medication and placing them outside the environment where the condition worsened. The length of treatment depends on the case, but the usual stay is 2-8 weeks in the department followed by outpatient treatment until symptoms disappear.

A psychiatrist has a medical education, is a graduate of a 6-year general medicine program, and has a 4-year psychiatric specialization in our country. They may have completed a psychotherapeutic training, which they use in their therapies. They see a person as a patient whose body is out of biological and bio-chemical balance and is not functioning according to medical standards. Generally, they deal with more severe cases where a person is no longer able to cope with their life on their own. They use medication for treatment, and the method involves establishing a diagnosis.

A psychologist does not have a medical education, is a graduate of a 5-year single-subject study, and after completing their university education, they can continue their specialization (e.g., clinical, counseling, work-organizational) and a potential psychotherapeutic training in their chosen approach.

A clinical psychologist is an expert in mental disorders, while a counseling psychologist deals with counseling in difficult life situations and crises (e.g., grief, crisis, or relationship counseling). They see a person as a bio-psycho-socio-cultural-spiritual being and perceive their problems in the context of these levels. They view the client as a person who needs help, encouragement, and advice.

A psychologist can be sought in less urgent cases when a person does not feel comfortable, and some of their functions are easily changed or disrupted. The main methods of their work are conversation, counseling, and psychological methods. Ideally, a psychologist and a psychiatrist work together and can direct the patient to the appropriate treatment.

A psychotherapist is an independent profession and may or may not be a psychologist or psychiatrist. They may have completed higher education, typically focused on working with people. A person becomes a psychotherapist after completing an accredited long-term psychotherapeutic training, which lasts several years.

The type of psychotherapeutic training may have various entry requirements for graduates (e.g. type of education). There are many psychotherapeutic approaches in the world, but only a limited number of them are accredited in Slovakia. A person chooses their approach based on their own preferences, interests, availability, and time and financial resources. Different psychotherapeutic approaches vary in the methods used, but the main goal and tool is to establish a therapeutic relationship with the client, which has a healing effect. The length and intensity of therapy depend on the therapeutic approach, the nature of the problem, and individual agreement.

The content of psychotherapeutic meetings may involve various types of problems and difficulties that affect various areas of the client’s life (e.g. family, relationship, work). It has been shown that the success of psychotherapy is not so dependent on the psychotherapeutic approach as on the personal quality and maturity of the therapist, the method chosen to address the problem, and the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

A coach is a person with an interest in working with people. They may or may not have higher education, which includes various fields (e.g. business, management). They have completed an accredited course and passed certification, which gives them permission to work with coaching methods. They see a person as a client who comes with an order to remove a problem and achieve the desired state.

Coaching should be understood as a superstructure/elevation/improvement of the current state and has the character of self-development activity, meaning that a person manages everyday life but wants to function more consciously and effectively. Coaching works with beliefs, emotions, and behavior. A coach uses coaching techniques in their work, which are based on asking the right questions that can effectively support and accelerate the desired change.