When you want to reach for psychological support, it’s not always that easy to know what kind of « shrink » you should search for. Here is a simple guide to find your way :
The « shrinks » whose professional title is protected
In France as well as in many other countries, psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists have law-protected professional titles. These professional titles can only be used by professionnals who have proved the authorities they have the appropriate diplomas and/or trainings – and therefore skills and proficiency – to use them.
Those professionals have to register in their local ARS (Agence Régionale de Santé : Health Regional Agency, depending on the French Health Ministery) that provide them with a unique registration number (ADELI number). This number is a proof that a health professional has shown his original diplomas to the autorithies and is dully entitled to use his professional title.
Psychologists are trained at University, in psychology faculty. To use this title, French psychologists must graduate as a minimum with a Licence and Master in psychology, as well as prove a minimum of 500 hours of supervised field trainings. Psychologists are not medical doctors, therefore they cannot prescribe any kind of drugs but are dully trained to refer their patients to psychiatrists whenever a medical prescription is needed.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors, specialized in psychiatry and/or child psychiatry. They are entitled to diagnose a mental disorder (in association with several professionals : neuropsychologists, psychologists, speech-therapists, psychomotor therapist, etc… ) and to prescribe drugs when needed. As doctors, they are the only one to have Social Security reimbursed sessions (but on a 28€ basis).
Psychotherapists are mental health professionals trained in a specific psychotherapeutic (mental care) technique. In order to legally use this title, they must prove a minimum of 400 hours of training in psychopathology (mental disorders study) and register in the national psychotherapists registry. Most of psychotherapists are also psychologists or psychiatrists, some of them are neither but have proved to have a solid and consistent enough mental health training program to use the psychotherapist title.
Psychoanalysts : a specific case
Psychoanalysts have a professional title that is not law-protected in France, psychoanalysis voluntarily placing itself outside of university curriculums. Therefore, anyone could theoretically declare himself a psychoanalyst.
However, « serious » psychoanalysts have a very long, consistent and strictly supervised training in a psychoanalysis society, and most of them are also psychologists or psychiatrists. In France, main psychoanalysis societies are SPP (Société Psychanalytique de Paris : Paris Psychoanalysis Association), APF (Association Psychanalytique de France : France Psychoanalysis Association), Quatrième Groupe (Fourth Group), Ecole de la Cause Freudienne (Freud’s Cause School). A psychoanalyst regularly registered in one of these societies will have a strong supervised training to psychoanalysis.
Other « shrinks »
There are far more people willing to work in the mental health or well-being area than those who actually succeed in graduating in psychology or psychiatry. They might then prefer to use unprotected titles such as « psychopraticien » , « psychépraticien » , « (whatever issue)-specialist » or even « life coach » .
Some of them may have had a long and consistent training in a psychotherapy school (without gaining the right to the psychotherapist title), but others might only have had a few days (or even hours) of training in a specific therapeutical technique.
Most of them barely have or have no training in psychopathology (knowledge of mental disorders) and will easily reach their professional limits confronted with a complex case. Feel free to ask for their diplomas or training if you have any doubt, or to take a second opinion with a professionnal with a stronger university training.