Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Psychiatrist vs Psychologist vs Counsellor? Choosing the Right Type of Help Can Be Tricky

Psychiatrist vs Psychologist vs Counsellor? Choosing the Right Type of Help Can Be Tricky

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When it comes to seeking professional help for mental health concerns, the abundance of options can leave us feeling bewildered. The journey towards emotional well-being often begins with a simple question: “Who should I turn to for help?” As you embark on this path, the decision between a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counsellor may seem like an overwhelming puzzle to solve. Each profession offers unique skills, approaches, and areas of expertise, making the choice a critical one. In this article, we will unravel the distinctions between these mental health professionals, helping you gain clarity and confidence in selecting the right type of help. So, let’s delve into the world of psychiatrists, psychologists, and counsellors to understand their roles, qualifications, and the specific situations in which their expertise shines.

The Black Dog Institute and the Australian Bureau of Statistics have shed light on the rising tide of mental health conditions in Australia. As we move into 2023, it is crucial to recognize that the demand for mental health services remains high, requiring additional resources and support from the Federal Government.

Despite the increased availability of services, there is still a concerning gap in awareness regarding the range of mental health practitioners and the specific help they can offer. This knowledge gap extends beyond the general public and encompasses even healthcare professionals, contributing to confusion and misunderstanding.

Most people would have an idea of what they think about the term’s counsellor, psychiatrist and psychologist. For example, they may believe a psychiatrist is a super-competent psychologist and a psychologist a super-competent counsellor. They would be wrong. And when the mental health of so many people is at stake, it is important an effort be made to rectify any misconceptions.

With that in mind and an aim to facilitate those who seek help make an informed choice, outlined below is what is meant by terms such as professional counsellor, psychiatrist, and psychologist – where they overlap, where they differ, what they are qualified to do, what they are not qualified to do, their specific qualifications, and the like.


  • Provide counselling services to individuals and/or families as well as relationship counselling services.
  • Have completed a three-year undergraduate degree majoring in psychology + a fourth year of tertiary training.
  • Following the fourth year, there are a few pathways psychologists can take. They can complete a further 1-2 years of post-graduate education, and/or supervised practice. Psychologists may hold a Master’s or Doctoral degree if they have chosen this pathway. Alternatively, they can secure an internship for a period of 1–2 years, during which time they practice as a provisional psychologist.
  • Hold provisional, general or clinical registration with the ‘Psychology Board of Australia’ (always look up the psychologist’s reference number to make sure they are registered).
  • Trained in the science of how people think, feel and behave.
  • Trained to help people become self-aware and understand their habits and triggers.
  • Special training to diagnose and assess people with mental health conditions such as; depression, anxiety, stress, ADHD, loss, phobias, family and relationships, habits and addictions or anything that makes someone feel that life is becoming too difficult.

Psychologists can choose to receive an area of endorsement, or specific supervised training, in the following areas:

  • Clinical neuropsychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Community psychology
  • Counselling psychology
  • Educational and developmental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Organisational psychology
  • Sports and exercise psychology

Psychologists use similar techniques to counsellors. However, they are trained to delve deeper and try to help the person uncover core issues of concern.

There is often further confusion when we hear the term ‘Counselling Psychologist’. They are generalist psychologists first, then do further university training to specialise in counselling.


  • Accredited counsellors complete a course of study from The Australian Counselling Association, The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, a Graduate Counselling certificate, or a Graduate Diploma of counselling.
  • Trained to use a ‘person centred ‘approach. This means that they will listen to your concerns and form a plan with you to manage and improve your health and wellbeing.
  • Support people experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of mental illness and aim to help people with the day-to-day practical concerns of life.
  • It’s important to note that counselling is not a regulated industry. This means that anyone who completes a one-day online course can call themselves a ‘counsellor’. It’s important to check the qualifications of your prospective counsellor before making an appointment.

The key difference between counsellors and psychologists is that psychologists are trained to assess and diagnose people with mild to severe mental health issues.


  • Have completed a medical degree, an internship for one year in a hospital setting, then trained with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP).
  • Prescribe medication.
  • Admit people to hospital if necessary.
  • Trained to understand severe mental health issues.

The main difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that psychiatrists attend medical school and become doctors. They are trained to link mental and physical problems and prescribe medication. Both psychiatrists and psychologists understand how the brain works and can assist with various mental illnesses. Some psychiatrists will also use talk therapy.

Studies have shown that the most important factor in a healthy and healing therapeutic relationship is the trust that develops between the client and practitioner. It’s important to find someone that you connect with, and that is qualified to meet your needs. At The Three Seas Group, we have appointments available with provisional, general, and clinical psychologists, as well as a counsellor and psychiatrist.

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