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Understanding the Differences Between Psychologists and Counsellors

Aug 27, 2015Self-Help0 comments

psychologists and counsellors

Psychology and counselling are inter-related therapies that can overlap in many ways. Psychologists and counsellors both provide therapy to people in need. They support people with emotional problems, help those who suffer from mental health concerns, as well as perform crisis intervention if needed. However there are significant differences between psychologists and counsellors, especially when it comes to their education and training, professional standards, methods of treatment, and other responsibilities.


Psychology: Education/training and professional standards

To be able to register as a psychologist in Australia, a minimum of 6 years training is required, including formal tertiary study and a prescribed number of years working under professional supervision under another registered psychologist. For example:

  • 4 years of university study in Psychology, followed by 2 years of supervised practice;
  • 5 years of study followed by one year of supervised practice; or
  • Completing the fifth or sixth year of study via a Master’s degree.

To be admitted to the Australian Psychology Society (APS) as a member, one will need six years of university study with a Master’s degree, including supervised practice. Members are also required to abide by principles of professional conduct, responsibilities and confidentiality, and these are set and monitored by the APS in its Code of Ethics.

As a registered psychologist in Australia; it is a legislative requirement to undertake annual continuing professional training and development, and to participate in regular peer consultations with other psychologists to discuss difficult client cases, to maximise therapy effectiveness and to improve therapy processes and outcomes for clients.

Counselling: Education/training and professional standards

At present, counsellors in Australia are not regulated, so there are no uniform standards of qualifications required nor code of conduct. In fact, anyone can call themselves a counsellor or set up practice as one, so there is a wide variation in the level of training and expertise amongst counsellors. Counsellors may or may not have training in the assessment or treatment of mental health issues.

Training may be undertaken as a:

  • 3 day course;
  • Bachelor’s degree; or
  • Master’s degree.

The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) is an organisation to which counsellors and psychotherapists who meet certain standards may register, either as individuals or as clinical members of accredited organisations. To be able to register as a clinical member of an accredited organisation, practicing counsellors must engage in a minimum of several hours per week counselling and undertaking regular professional development in the form of readings, lectures, conferences, and seminars. The individual or organisation must also have clear sets of guidelines for ethical behaviour to be eligible register.

PACFA promotes professional excellence and minimum training standards for counsellors and psychotherapists, and therefore is the representative body for these professions.

Psychology: Methods of treatment and additional responsibilities

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, particularly those that impact behaviour in a given context. Since psychologists have a comprehensive understanding of behavioural and mental processes, they are considered experts in the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of human behaviour and emotion.

Psychologists can work in specialised areas such as:

  • Clinical and counselling psychology,
  • Health Psychology,
  • Industrial psychology,
  • Educational psychology,
  • Consumer psychology,
  • Sports psychology,
  • Community psychology,
  • Organisational psychology,
  • Forensic psychology,
  • Child psychology,
  • Environmental psychology, and
  • Experimental psychology.

Psychologists may perform the similar roles as counsellors, but their additional responsibilities may also include developing, researching, and administering psychological or diagnostic tests (to assess intelligence or achievement, personality characteristics, mental/emotional disorders, and the effects of brain injury), as well as consulting with other medical professionals in regards to the appropriate treatment for their patients. They also differ from counsellors in that they offer long-term treatment.

Clinical psychologists help assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses throughout a person’s life, as well as a wide range of emotional and behavioural problems. Clinical and counselling psychologists provide various psychological treatments or therapies, for example cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Gestalt therapy, humanistic therapy, client-centred therapy, interpersonal psychology, psychodynamic therapy, or ACT therapy. Each approach reflects a different way of understanding and describing a client’s issues.

Psychologists are not able to prescribe medications to their patients, only Psychiatrists who have been trained as medical doctors can prescribe medications. On the other hand, Psychologists focus on changing a person’s behaviour without using any form of medication. The techniques used are based on scientific evidence that show these treatments are indeed effective.

Psychologists have both research and practical skills that can be applied to a wide variety of fields, including health, education, and management. This means that they can work in various settings, such as in private practices, schools, mental health clinics, and hospitals.

Counselling: Methods of treatment and additional responsibilities

Counselling is the provision of professional assistance and guidance in resolving people’s personal problems. Counsellors may help their clients learn better ways to manage their problems, mainly by providing talk therapy. More specifically, counsellors offer assistance to people who suffer from problems that cause emotional distress, including anxiety, relationship/marriage/family issues, eating or sexual disorders, life changes, and substance abuse.

Like Psychologists, Counsellors focus on an individual’s concerns and difficulties, as well as trying to understand people’s thoughts, behaviours, and feelings, and how these may be causing problems in their lives. So basically, counselling involves helping people to develop a better understanding of themselves and make positive changes in their lives.  Generally, counsellors offer short term treatment to encourage positive changes of behaviour.

Counsellors usually work in private practices or mental health clinics, but some also work in schools or community centres.

Hopefully, this information has helped you to better understand the differences between psychology and counselling, so that you know what kind of help will be best suited for your needs.

If you live on the Gold Coast, and you or maybe someone you know needs to see a psychologist or counsellor, why not contact Integrated Health Specialists today?  We offer both psychology and counselling services on the Gold Coast, amongst a range of other holistic health services, to help you improve your quality of life.