How to choose? Psychologist, coach or priest?


I often encounter questions from clients about what to choose when they want to address a specific problem or situation in their lives. We go through various life events, and naturally, we tend to lean towards a solution that feels familiar to us. Research shows that clients often decide to seek mental health professionals only after 14 months of experiencing adverse life events or symptoms.

That's why I provide brief and concise information about the differences between various professions in the field of mental health care, which can help you make a decision. The uncertainty in your decision-making process can lead to delaying your decision and visiting a professional much later. And here's where a process similar to going to the dentist takes place. Sometimes, we put off dealing with significant cavities and painful procedures until they start causing problems, and then the treatment and care take much longer than if we had gone to the dentist earlier. In the end, instead of treating a surface cavity, we may face tooth extraction or root canal treatment (treatment of dental canals).

What are the differences between a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, coach, and priest in Slovakia?

We can start with the simplest aspect, which is education:

  • Psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry (6 years of medicine + 4-5 years of specialization). 

  • Psychologist has completed university studies, typically a single-field degree in psychology (5 years of university education, preparation for healthcare work - 6 months + specialization - approximately 3 years). 

  • Psychotherapist is a person with a university degree who has undergone additional training, typically a minimum of 5 years of therapeutic training, and certification criteria are determined by individual therapeutic institutes. 

  • Coach is not necessarily required to have a university degree. Typically, completing a 1- to 2-year coaching training program is recommended, and certification requirements depend on the educational organization. 

  • Priest is a graduate in a field related to theology, typically philosophical-theological studies.

Another interesting piece of information is the professional organization that brings together or provides further education for professionals and specialists in various fields in Slovakia: 

  • Psychiatrist - Slovak Psychiatric Society (specialization in psychiatry - diploma of completion of university education). 

  • Psychologist - Slovak Chamber of Psychologists (specialization in clinical, counseling, or work and organizational psychology - diploma of completion of university education and certification diploma). 

  • Psychotherapist - Slovak Psychotherapeutic Society (specialization based on the type of training - diploma of completion of university education and psychotherapeutic certification). 

  • Coach - Slovak Association of Coaches or International Coach Federation (focus depends on the type of certification - certificate). 

  • Priest - Church (completion of the priestly formation program - ordination as a priest).

The severity of the problem or situation you are currently experiencing is what distinguishes different mental health professionals, and you can use this criterion to decide whom to visit:

  • Psychiatrist often focuses on problems associated with significant limitations in daily life and the control of mental functions (e.g., addiction, anxiety disorders, depression, sleep disorders, mental illnesses). 

  • Psychologist is an expert who helps individuals when basic mental functions are disrupted but they can still manage regular functioning in life (e.g., mood changes, relationship problems, communication and social complications). 

  • Psychotherapist specializes in clients with diverse levels of problem severity and aims to change dysfunctional patterns of thinking, experiencing, and behavior (e.g., long-term relationship issues) and also provides support in the treatment of mental disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders). 

  • Coach primarily works with clients in self-development and improving the quality of life, and more severe mental problems are not topics of discussion (e.g., workplace communication, increasing efficiency). 

  • Priest focuses on various difficulties primarily related to topics of morality, conscience, human faith, and spirituality (e.g., accompanying the dying, feelings of guilt, conscience-related reproaches).

Regarding the individual professions, session length and frequency can vary to ensure progress and movement in your situation:

  • Psychiatrist, as a medical doctor, can provide assistance on a one-time basis or lifelong, with examinations typically lasting from 20 to 60 minutes (depending on the severity of the diagnosis and problem). 

  • Psychologist usually offers 50-minute sessions on a weekly or biweekly basis, and the duration of collaboration depends on the complexity of the problem and the psychologist's professional approach. 

  • Psychotherapist, similar to a psychologist, typically provides 50-minute sessions on a weekly or biweekly frequency, and the duration of collaboration depends on their specialization and the severity of the client's problem (therapy can be long-term or short-term, but clients often expect longer-term collaboration with subsequent development). 

  • Coach works with clients on a one-time or as-needed basis according to the client's requirements. 

  • Priest does not have defined or recommended characteristics for session length or frequency, as their work depends on agreement with the client.

If you're wondering which of these professionals is authorized to provide pharmacotherapy (treatment using medication and remedies), it is only psychiatrists who have this capability. Psychologists, on the other hand, have the specific authorization for conducting psychodiagnostic.

And finally, a brief summary:

  • Psychiatrist

    is a specialized medical doctor authorized to use pharmacotherapy and utilizes diagnostic methods. Their relationship is based on the doctor-patient principle. They may have completed psychotherapeutic training and generally address cases where a person is unable to cope with life and their mental functions are severely impaired.

  • Psychologist is not a medical doctor. I recommend seeking their services for less severe complications. They primarily use conversation, counseling, psychological methods, and also conduct psychodiagnostic. They may have completed psychotherapeutic training as well.
  • Psychotherapist is an independent profession and does not necessarily have to be a psychiatrist or psychologist. Their higher education can be of diverse nature according to the criteria of the psychotherapeutic institute. I recommend choosing an approach that resonates with your preferences (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, process-oriented therapy, body-oriented therapy, psychoanalysis).
  • Coach is someone interested in personal development. They may have a higher education degree and have completed an accredited course with certification. They work with coaching methods and techniques, aiming to support the client and gain a more effective understanding of their situation.
  • Priest is a specialist in mental health from a spiritual and transcendental perspective. They focus on topics related to religion and integrate methods from philosophy, theology, and pastoral care. They mainly utilize interpersonal contact and, through rituals, mediate spiritual values and experiences.

I believe that these more detailed pieces of information can be beneficial for you to make a more informed and quicker decision about which professional you want to visit. However, in general, follow the principle of utilizing what helps you.

PhDr. Ivana Čergeťová, PhD., LL.M., MBA, PCIC

I am a psychologist, NLP coach, attachment-based therapist, career counselor, and academic staff. I have been dedicated to the attachment theory in personal and work settings for over 20 years. I work on this topic not only as a counselor but also as a researcher. Meeting with me can help you if you are seeking an expert in mental health specializing in relationships, communication, and personal development. For more information, follow my social networks @radipsychologicka #attachment #relationships #love #attachment #JoinMeForAdvice #relationshiptherapist #development