What’s the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a counsellor (or psychotherapist, or therapist)?
Throughout Australia (and most of the world) psychologists are registered by the State. In order to use the title ‘psychologist’ in NSW you must have a minimum of four years’ University training in psychology and two years’ prescribed supervision, and you must work within stringent ethical standards. Psychologists who have the title ‘Doctor’ have a Doctorate; a higher degree that involves many additional years of work.
Registration provides protection for consumers. If your psychologist breaches your confidentiality or behaves inappropriately or unethically towards you, you can report this to the Psychologists Registration Board in your State and the matter will be investigated and dealt with.
The titles ‘counsellor’, ‘psychotherapist’ or ‘therapist’ are not registered. Literally anyone who wants to can set themselves up in practice as a counsellor, psychotherapist or therapist.
A psychiatrist is a medical specialist. He or she has a medical degree followed by specialist training in psychiatry. Because they are doctors, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication and they tend to see people at the more severe end of the spectrum of mental and emotional difficulties.
The titles ‘counsellor’, ‘psychotherapist’ or ‘therapist’ are not registered. Literally anyone who wants to can set themselves up in practice as a counsellor, psychotherapist or therapist. No training is required. There is no registration and no protection for consumers.
It is certainly true that many effective and ethical professionals work under the title counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist. Unfortunately it is also true that untrained, poorly trained and unethical people also work under these titles. Because of the risks in this situation, if you choose to see a counsellor, psychotherapist or therapist, you should protect yourself by asking them a lot of questions before hand.
· Ask about the training they have acquired and for some details.
· Do not be fooled by long lists of letters after someone’s name. Sometimes these just mean membership of organisations for which no particular standards apply.
· Ask what professional associations they belong to.
· Ask for contact information about any professional association so that you can check things like requirements for membership and ethical standards required of members.
Your emotional wellbeing is worth the extra time and effort theses questions will take.
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