Counsellors and psychologists are both professionals who offer support to individuals facing difficulties, but knowing the difference between the two is important in ensuring you get the right support.
So what is the difference between a counsellor and a psychologist?
Let me explain…
Accredited counsellors recognised by the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) or the Psychotherapy And Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) will have a minimum of a degree in counselling, psychotherapy or an equivalent diploma with adequate CPD. Accredited Psychologists (those recognised by the Australian Psychological Society or the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency) have studied psychology for a minimum of 4 years. Membership to each of these professional bodies requires there members to be suitably qualified, have public liability and indemnity insurance, undertake a set amount of professional development each year, and undergo professional supervision.
Neither counsellors nor psychologists are legally permitted to prescribe medication. Psychiatrists are qualified medical practitioners who have gone on further from completing studies in medicine to specialise in mental health, and are able to prescribe medication for mental health issues.
As an individual or couple you may engage with either a counsellor or a psychologist, and there may be some overlap in the services offered.
Which one suits you best will come down to the way the therapist works, the approach they take toward the issues presented as well as healing and treatment, the degree of connection you feel with them, and their authenticity.
Counsellors apply integrative approaches to assist individuals in understanding behaviours, emotions, issues and circumstances that cause distress and impede on daily living, and develop strategies for coping with and deriving solutions to these issues. They work collaboratively with individuals to unravel feelings and thoughts to provide clarity the needed to move forward. Issues may include anxiety, depression, stress, anger, grief and loss, self-esteem, and relationships.
Counsellors do not diagnose medical mental illness according to symptoms, instead working with individuals to look at root causes and develop non-medical strengths-based long-term solutions. Counselling may involve short-term engagement for addressing specific issues with a client, or long-term psychotherapeutic approaches to address deeper and varied issues. Many counsellors also strive for holistic care and support, working for mind and body balance to achieve the best outcomes.
Psychologists specialise in behaviour as a result of mental processes and brain functioning. They diagnose medical mental illness according to presenting symptoms, and are trained to work with specific mental illnesses that impede an individual’s functioning, for example; chronic anxiety, severe panic disorders, severe depression, OCD, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, or Personality Disorders. To see a psychologist you will generally have completed a Mental Health Treatment Plan with your GP or be under the care of a Psychiatrist as well. Psychologists are also available to see privately outside of GP referral.
Psychology in general demands a higher fee for services than counselling. Psychologists charge upto $250 per hour, while counsellors will charge upto approximately $120 per hour. If you are suffering from a specific mental health condition and have completed a Mental Health Treatment Plan with your doctor you may be entitled to 6 Medicare rebated sessions under the initial referral, with up to a further 4 after reassessment, per calendar year with a registered psychologist. Currently the Medicare subsidy is valued at up to $84.80 for a registered psychologist, with the gap payable by the client. Some health insurance providers cover counselling services by an accredited counsellor.
The difference in fees between counsellors and psychologists should not be interpreted as a difference in the quality of service as counsellors and psychologists perform different functions.
To make the decision to try any form of therapeutic emotional support can be a confronting but life-changing step. Ultimately the most important aspect of finding a therapist that will be a good fit for you is to ensure that whoever you choose makes you feel safe and supported so that you can be your authentic self.
Someone who “gets” you and wants nothing more than to see you heal, grow and flourish.
It is also a good idea to look into whether your therapist of choice is registered with the appropriate governing organisation (ACA or PACFA for counsellors, APS or AHPRA for psychologists). Like any service we choose to utilise it’s important to realise that not every therapist we find will be our perfect fit, so don’t be disheartened if your first try isn’t the best. Keep searching until you find someone you connect with and in time you will reap the rewards.
If after reading this you’re still unsure which type professional support is the right step for you, give me a call 0402 017 425 or send me a message and together we can figure out which direction may be the best for you.
My name is Fiona Rogerson and I am an ACA accredited perinatal and Perth women’s counsellor, and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Practitioner. I work with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. I am also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations. I am based south of the river in Perth and can be contacted by email at email@example.com or phone 0402 017 425 or via my contact page.