Differences Between Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Counsellors, and Therapists.
So – you’ve decided to move ahead with your mental health and now you want to seek out a professional who can help you make sense of your lifestyle and personality. Inspired, you sit down to google “mental health professionals near me” and instead of a simple answer, you get pages and pages of listings.
Some are for psychologists, some for psychiatrists, others for counsellors or therapists…how do you know which one you need? And what is the difference between these mental health service providers, anyway?
Today, we’ll explain what these different titles mean and what each one offers. In turn, this will help you decide which one is best suited to your specific needs.
Different Types of Counselling Services
Just like you might go to a cardiologist, a neurosurgeon, or a podiatrist for issues affecting different parts of your body, you can likewise choose a professional to treat your mental health with different methods and approaches. Although terms like counsellor, therapist, and psychologist are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences between them.
The title of counsellor in Alberta, until 2018, was relatively liberal to use – there was no protection or educational requirement, meaning that anyone could be a counsellor (at least in name). As of December 2018, a new organization – the Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta – was established to create new protected titles for counsellors, as well as basic guides for certification.
Traditionally, there was no educational minimum for counsellors, but that is changing now. Many of them now only get training, certifications, and degrees in areas like addictions or youth treatment, but also adhere to codes of conducts and other ethical guidelines. In general, counsellors are also thought of as more “short-term” assistants, instead of the sometimes years-long relationships of psychologists.
Therapists are quite similar to counsellors – in fact, often their roles overlap significantly – but they usually have a more specialized education to ground their offerings. Titles like “licensed counselling therapist” are protected in Alberta, so there are some restrictions on who can claim to be one. Some kind of license, approved credentials, degree, or certificate is needed to be anything more than a basic “therapist”: psychotherapist, addictions therapist, registered social worker, etc. Many psychologists are therapists, for example, but that is not necessarily true the other way around.
Therapists may have a broad interest in human behaviour, capable of offering high-level support and new perspectives to almost all clients, in addition to more specific insights within their area of specialty training. Some of them may use clinical methodologies for treatment, and others may not. As you can see, there is a wide variety of capabilities covered by the word therapist, so it’s recommended that you look closely at their qualifications to see if they are right for you.
Across all of Canada, psychologist is a protected title, referring to people who have attained a certain level of education and certification, as well as accreditation in good standing with a regulatory board. Psychologists study how people think, feel, and behave from a scientific perspective, and use this knowledge to help people understand and change their behaviour regarding mental health.
Psychologists always hold at least a Master’s and often a doctorate in psychology, and depending on the work they do, will usually have several years of additional training and licensing. They declare an area of specialization, such as child psychology or specific mental disorders, and use their knowledge of verified and proven methodologies (e.g., the Gottman Method) to help people overcome these conditions.
Psychologists do not just work as therapists – many go to careers in academic research, criminal justice, neuroscience, animal behaviour, and various other fields.
Like psychologists, psychiatrists always have a very strong education – but it does not necessarily need to be in psychology. Their work is based more on the medical side of treatment, rather than the psychological side, though psychiatrists may choose to get training for both.
The big difference between the two is that psychiatrists typically don’t do much direct counselling, but rather they identify and diagnose severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia. They can also prescribe psychotropic medications as treatments, whereas psychologists use behavioural awareness and modifications.
Qualifications of Flourish Psychological Services in Calgary
At Flourish, our staff is comprised of registered psychologists, each with their own areas of expertise and additional training. You can look through what each one offers on our About page, and if you have any more questions, simple reach out and let us know how we can help.