What's the difference between Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist, Counsellor, and Psychiatrist?..

There are a lot of mental health professionals where their titles end with “-ist” and it can be confusing. People often confuse me with a psychiatrist, and fewer people understand the difference between a Clinical Psychologist, other psychologists, and a counsellor. This article will hopefully help you understand a few types of positions in the mental health and emotional wellbeing field. 

Clinical Psychologist

To be a “Clinical” Psychologist the person must be endorsed and registered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency   (AHPRA). To receive this endorsement, the person must show that they have completed at least a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology (in Australia) that involves clinical internships, coursework, supervision, and a research component. After graduation, they receive ongoing training through a supervised registrar program. In addition, they are required to undertake ongoing professional development and peer supervision every year. As such, Clinical Psychologists have received highly specialised training in the diagnosis and psychological treatment of the spectrum of mental, behavioural and emotional problems. In other countries, such as the U.S., a doctorate degree is the only acceptable educational level for a Clinical Psychologist.

Psychologist 

General Psychologists (or just “Psychologists”) are registered by AHPRA. Psychologists can vary in level of training and education. They are not required to complete further postgraduate training; however, like all psychologists, they are required to undertake ongoing professional development every year and supervision. As part of their training, General Psychologists have completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and in addition, many would have completed two years of supervised practice under a Board approved supervisor as part of their registration process. Some may have completed a one year postgraduate program and one year of supervised practice. 

Other Endorsed Psychologists

There are many other types of Psychologists that are endorsed and registered by AHPRA as practising in a particular area of psychology such as Neuropsychologists, Counselling Psychologists, and Educational and Developmental Psychologists. They must show that they have particular qualifications in their field of practice and undertake supervised practice in that area. Like all psychologists (and health practitioners), they are required to undertake annual professional development and supervision. 

Counsellor

Counsellors vary greatly in their training and they are not government regulated. As they are not regulated, they are not mandated to undertake further training, supervision or professional development. It is up to the individual counsellor to undertake further training and supervision. Counsellors who pose as Psychologists face legal consequences. 

Health/Life Coach

Coaches are not regulated and do not require any training or a minimum education level. Anyone can call themselves a Health or Life Coach. 

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have undertaken specialised training in mental health. This involved at least 5 years of specialised training on top of their medical degree and training as a general doctor. They assess and treat complex mental health disorders. Psychiatrists (unlike all Psychologists) can prescribe medication. In Australia, it is common for Psychiatrists to assess and review cases where medication is involved rather than provide ongoing psychological therapy. They often work closely with Psychologists who provide the psychological therapy. 

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