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  • Writer's picturePauline Crouzat, PhD

Psy and what ? Psychological health professions and related disciplines in France

Many professions and activities use the terminology "psychology". It can be confusing. Here, after a brief presentation of the French regulatory context in the health sector, we attempt to address simply the major distinctions between the different professions and activities using the prefix "psy".

1. Regulatory french context in health: information to the public

It is important for each person to be able to choose (when he/she can) his/her health care by having legal and regulatory information about the different statuses existing in France.

In France, there is a Public Health Code. This is a series of legislative texts that govern health in France. It guarantees the protection of people in terms of access to health.

The Regional Health Agencies (ARS) manage, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, directories where health professionals subject to the Public Health Code or the Social Action and Family Code are registered in order to guarantee citizens access to sufficiently trained and qualified professionals.

In France, anyone can check the skills of their contact person by consulting :

- The Shared Register of Health Professiolnals (RPPS) for midwives, doctors, dental surgeons, pharmacists and masseurs-kinésithérapeutes (but also the tableau de l'Ordre des Médecins for doctors)

- The ADELI ("Automatisation DEs LIstes", in french*) directory for medical auxiliaries (dental assistants, audioprosthetists, dieticians, epithesists, occupational therapists, nurses, psychiatric nurses, ERM manipulators, ocularists, opticians, orthopaedist, orthotist, speech therapist, orthoprosthetist, orthoptist, podiatrist, psychomotrician, laboratory technician), psychologists, osteopaths, chiropractors, psychotherapists and social workers.

2. "Psy" and therapists: concepts to be distinguished

"Psy" comes from the Greek psukhê which means "soul". It is an old and broad term, which does not always allow a clear understanding of the content of the professions directly concerned. The Larousse (2020) defines the term "psy" as a feminine noun which is a "colloquial abbreviation for the fields and activities performed by professionals in psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychology, etc." Also, the terms psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, therapist or psycho-... are closely related notions that cause a lot of confusion. We give here some definitions distinguishing these notions.

PSYCHOLOGIST: the psychologist is an engineer in psychology. Psychology (from the Greek psukhê, soul, and logos, word, speech), is a scientific discipline which is interested in the study of psychic facts, behaviour and mental processes. The psychologist is trained in particular in the analysis and resolution of affective and emotional disorders (psychopathology), cognitive mechanisms, physiological and neurological mechanisms, interactions between individuals and their environment (environmental, cultural, social) and the practice of psychotherapy. Depending on their training, there are psychologists whose activity is dedicated to the accompaniment of people and to psychological care, but also psychologists working for the improvement of the functioning of different human organisations (analysis and diagnosis of situations, assessments, counselling, design and co-design of solutions, training). Psychologists are therefore involved in transformative actions and have been since the birth of the profession. They are not passive analysts or focused on childhood, as mentioned by many training schools for parallel, profit-oriented professions (this is misinformation, unfortunately often linked to a lack of culture and a poor knowledge of history). On the other hand, psychologists are ethically not allowed to advertise or promote their services (just to inform about their existence), which allows in the age of communication, unethical professions to convey a lot of misinformation. The psychologist is subject to the french Code of Ethics for Psychologists. Psychologists working directly in psychological health (personal care) are all registered in the ADELI directory.


DOCTOR IN PSYCHOLOGY (PHD): Scientific researcher and/or university professor or lecturer (holding a PhD). Professional practising research and higher education in psychology. Doctors of Psychology, depending on the degree of practical training during their career, often also have the title of psychologist.


PSYCHIATRIST: The psychiatrist is a doctor specialising in psychiatry, a specialty dealing with mental health. This professional is trained in general medicine, the basics of psychology, neurosciences, the medicinal approach and the various medical nosographies. Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental pathologies. Like psychologists, psychiatrists may practice psychotherapy depending on their training. Psychiatrists are subject to the Code of Medical Ethics. Psychiatrists, who are doctors, are registered with the Order of Physicians and the RPPS.


PSYCHOTHERAPIST: "Clinical" psychologists (trained mainly in the different currents of psychopathology and/or psychoanalysis) are psychotherapists by virtue of their initial training.

The professional use of the title of psychotherapist is regulated by the Code de la Santé Publique. Since 2010, the use of the title of psychotherapist is reserved for people with specific training (theoretical training in clinical psychopathology of at least 400 hours accompanied by a practical training period of at least 5 months in an approved establishment). Access to this training is therefore reserved in France to doctors or qualified psychologists. Psychotherapists are registered in the ADELI directory.


PSYCHOMOTRICIAN: The psychomotrician is specialised in motor functions linked to psychic and cerebral functions. On medical prescription, the psychomotrician helps people suffering from various disorders such as attention difficulties, difficulties in finding their bearings in space or time, balance, memory and attention disorders. The re-education or activities proposed by the psychomotrician can take different forms through movement, action, communication, emotions and representations. Each session, whether individual or collective, aims to reconcile the patient with his or her body, to provide ease of movement and to restore a feeling of physical well-being. Psychomotricians hold a State Diploma in Psychomotricity and are registered in the ADELI directory.


THERAPIST: A therapist is a "person who treats the sick" (Larousse, 2020). In France, the term therapist has a generic use and does not correspond to a precise profession, even if the word "therapist" is followed by a technique or a quality (example: therapist in ...). Therapists are not registered in the RPPS or ADELI directories.


WELLNESS" PROFESSIONALS. Here we list some examples of titles used by several professionals in the moral and behavioural "well-being" sector who are not currently recognised by the Public Health Code in terms of psychological, mental or physical health: coaches, psycho-practitioners, psycho-energeticians, psycho-genealogists, psycho-somatotherapists etc.


To summarise this information, it is sufficient to remember in France, that all psychological health professionals, whether individual or collective, are registered with the RPPS or ADELI directory and that there are also many titles that deal with psychological or physical therapy and well-being. Fortunately, every person is free to consult the professional he or she wishes, whether it be in terms of "well-being" or health. As long as there is no breach of trust, ideological drift, usurpation of title, purely commercial approach or, above all, nuisance on the part of practising professionals, the existence and multiplication of so many professionals could above all reflect a growing interest in work centred on... the human being and his or her sufferings.

* It is planned to merge these two registers into a single register (the RPPS) in the coming months/years (2022).

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