Counseling in Vienna by Richard L. Fellner

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Psychotherapist, Counselor, Psychiatrist, Coach,.. who's the right one for my problem?

Psychotherapist is a legally protected/regulated profession in most countries. Patients have to be sure that they are professionally treated and their psychotherapist is trained according to certain standards. In most European countries, there are even specific laws regulating psychotherapy, and there are also European and world-wide certificates that can only be obtained by well-trained psychotherapists and that may help patients to find out whether their psychotherapists are meeting these requirements.

Counseling is not a legally protected term and profession in most countries and also not restricted to mental health issues at all (in other words, a 'counselor' may also be someone who counsels people in legal matters!). Thus, for you as a potential patient or client it is crucial to check the underlying professional training of your counselor - my take is that someone offering mental health or relationship counseling should have at least a psychotherapeutic and/or psychiatric background and also own the respective diplomas indicating 5+ years of training in these fields. In other words: look for counselors that are also psychotherapists and/or psychiatrists, otherwise it is advisable to look for someone else.

Psychiatrists and neurologists are specialized in the neurological aspects, the diagnosis and medical treatment of mental disorders. In most European countries, psychiatrists are only consulted by patients suffering from severe mental disorders (like personality disorders or psychosis) or patients who need supplementary medication while undergoing a psychotherapy - which they do when they feel they can still deal with their daily routines but want to work out strategies on how to cope and improve their issues by themselves and by developing self-improvement strategies under professional guidance. In angloamerican part of the world, psychiatrists are often also consulted for psychotherapy.

Psychologists are covering a broad spectrum of the human psyche, from testing and evaluating neurological functions, social and intellectual skills, over job-related trainings, to forms of psychological counseling. In most countries, psychologists are more focused on diagnosis (like psychological testing), research and clinical studies rather than continuous forms of counseling. Most psychologists didn't have psychotherapeutic training on a professional level, as this is a different profession from psychology in most countries.

Coaches, trainers, spriritual guides etc. are usually specialized in certain aspects of improving mental health conditions, like a focus on job-related issues, very specific (or even esoteric) approaches on how to improve our lives or they offer specialized forms of training and exercises that are supposed to help their clients feel happier and discover new forms of dealing with their daily challenges. Coaches and 'trainers' usually don't have psychotherapeutic qualifications and are thus not allowed to treat more severe forms of mental health issues in most countries.

There are also countless other forms of 'psychological' treatment that often sound promising but don't guarantee a professional level of treatment at all. Especially if you feel you are beyond a point where you can help yourself if it comes hard (or the 'guidance' fails), it is recommended to seek a professionally trained person from the beginning, like a psychotherapist, counselor or psychiatrist. Also watch out whether your professional helper has actually undergo the level of training he/she claims to have, particularly if there are claims regarding legally protected titles like psychotherapy or psychiatry. Also, whatever is called differently from psychotherapy/psychiatry is usually not psychotherapy/psychiatry but rather something that tries to gain trust from creating a professional impression without providing the actual level of professionalism.