Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Psychotherapists

Explanation on the qualifications and training disciplines you can expect from psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts practising in France…

The distinction between psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst is very unclear to many people and the qualifications required even less clear which leads to confusion and uncertainty about who to choose when seeking a "psy" in France.


A psychiatrist (Greek: psukho meaning breath, life, soul; iatros meaning healer) is a doctor, specialised in psychiatry. This is the branch of medicine which studies disorders affecting thought, emotion and behaviour. A psychiatrist, therefore, is trained to diagnose and treat mental illness and disorder (schizophrenia, manic depression, psychoses). As a doctor they prescribe medication for which consultation fees are reimbursed by the Sécurité Sociale. A psychiatrist may also be trained as a psychotherapist.


A psychologist is not qualified in medicine but has a degree in psychology. In France, this is a title and can only be used after obtaining a D.E.S.S. (Diplôme d'Etudes Supérieures Spécialisées) or D.E.A (Diplôme d'Etudes Approffondies) or, today, a Master 2 in Psychology (minimum five years of university or equivalent).

Psychologists work in different fields (legal, social, personnel, education). A clinical psychologist usually works in the health sphere: they may work in a hospital or within another health structure.

Usually trained in psychotherapy (behaviourist, psychoanalysis, gestalt...), a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist are the two professions trained in basic psychology (the study of normal mental processes and behaviour) and psychopathology.


Prior to a change in the law in July 2010, the title "psychotherapist" was not classified by law. However since this date, psychotherapists, including those trained in psychopathology and clinical practice may carry this title. This training is open only to doctors and those with master's degree qualifications in psychology or psychoanalysis.

Often qualified as a psychologist or psychiatrist, a psychotherapist deals with psychological problems and difficulties using the therapeutical method in which they were trained.


The practise of psychoanalysis is not regulated in France. A psychoanalyst, usually a psychologist or psychiatrist, has to have completed their own psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is an in-depth psychotherapy working on unconscious processes and motivations which influence people's behaviour.

Often, a psychiatrist who offers psychoanalysis does not prescribe medical treatment in their capacity as a psychoanalyst, in order not to mix the two.

Anyone in private practice must be declared with URSAFF and have a business registration number (a SIRET number) in order to work legally in France.

Page prepared by Joanna Kaluzinska, Psychotherapist-psychoanalyst, D.E.S.S. de Psychologie Clinique et Pathologique, Université de Paris VII. Copyright © Joanna Kaluzinska All Rights Reserved