The Who's Who of Psychosocial Support in Germany - Guide through a labyrinth of job titles
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Psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psych… who is who???
Here are some pointers that you may find helpful in navigating the labyrinth of the different job titles regularly used in the context of mental health support in Germany because they can be very confusing.
We aim to illuminate the most important ones for you: You can differentiate between “psychologists”, "psychological psychotherapists," „Diplom/Master- Psycholog*innen mit Heilkunde-Erlaubnis“, „Heilpraktiker*innen für Psychotherapie“, "psychiatrists," and “coaches”, all of which provide mental health guidance but differ significantly in some aspects. Being aware of their differences in terms of qualification, focus, and area of expertise can help you find the support that best suits your individual needs.
Psychologists have acquired a higher educational degree in the field of psychology. Once they have finished their Master's degree, they are allowed to call themselves Psychologists. They may offer psychological advice and share their expertise in various contexts, such as mental health clinics, counseling centers, schools, or other social service institutions. They may also have their private practice. Psychologists may or may not have undergone therapeutic training - but usually not to the degree psychological psychotherapists have. There are various therapy trainings out there but only a psychologist with a master's degree or diploma in psychology and additional extensive therapeutic training in a guideline procedure therapy approach (co-regulated by the German health care sector) and a so-called “Approbation” is referred to as a psychological psychotherapist.
Even though all psychologists, coaches, Heilpraktiker*innen for psychotherapy, and psychological psychotherapists, often use similar tools and techniques, only psychological psychotherapists, Diplom/Master- Psycholog*innen with Heilkunde-Erlaubnis and Heilpraktiker*innen für Psychotherapie are allowed to assign diagnoses and treat them. Psychological psychotherapists, unlike psychologists, can acquire a so-called "Kassensitz", i.e. a license for registered psychological psychotherapists in private practice, so that treatment costs can be covered by health insurance companies (instead of individual clients paying for the service themselves).
Psychologists can acquire the so-called „Heilkunde- Erlaubnis“ through an examination by the public health department. If psychologists have a Heilkunde- Erlaubnis (medical license) they can assign diagnoses and treat them as well. Non-Psychologists can also go through a training to become Heilpraktiker*in für Psychotherapie (alternative practitioner for psychotherapy) and thus a Heilkunde- Erlaubnis with which they can assign and treat diagnoses too.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed training to become a psychiatric and psychotherapy specialist. While they usually undergo much less extensive psychotherapeutic training than psychological psychotherapists, they are experts when it comes to psychotropic drug treatments. (General practitioners may also prescribe psychotropic drugs, but psychiatrists tend to have a much deeper understanding of them.)
Coaching is an unprotected term in Germany. As such, practically anybody can call him*herself a coach. Hence, the range in coaching quality is very broad. When selecting a suitable coach, it is highly recommended to make decisions based on the coach's qualifications and level of working experience rather than trusting the title itself.
For German speakers we recommend this website for in-depth information on the different kinds of psychotherapy in Germany as well as detailed information on various mental health issues:
If you are currently looking for a psychotherapist in your area (Germany), you may find this website helpful: https://psych-info.de/
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