What’s the difference between a Therapist/Psychologist/Psychiatrist

Trying to work out which type of mental health professional you need can be a bit confusing. Registered practitioners will usually require a referral from a medical doctor or other specialists, but some referrals may be provided by community organistions and alike. So where do I start and what do they all do?

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists receive the same medical training as other doctors. After completion of the standard degree, they take on additional specialisation training in psychiatry. This includes training in the diagnosis and treatment of various mental health disorders.

Things to remember about psychiatrists:

  • They have medical training
  • They can issue prescriptions
  • They provide diagnosis and behavioural therapy
  • You will a referral from a primary care physician (your doctor) to see one
  • Some (very few) do not charge over the medicare levy.
  • Costs per session range from $200 to $450
  • You will receive some of this back as a medicare rebate
  • You are unlikely to be able to claim sessions through private health insurance

Psychologists

Psychologists do not attend medical school but do complete an undergraduate degree in either Arts or Science depending on the University. To practice as a Clinical Psychologist (there are other types of psychologists, but ones with Clinical Training are recommended) you require a minimum four-year undergraduate degree, with two years of clinical supervision.  Many practicing clinical psychologists have a specialist clinical Masters Degree, and/or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.).

Things to remember about psychologists:

  • They do not have medical training and can not issue prescriptions
  • Many have specialist training in behavioural therapy and cognitive testing
  • You do not need a referral from a primary care physician (your doctor) to see one, BUT
  • You will need a referral as part of a mental health plan if you wish to access the 10 government-funded sessions (Australia only)
  • Some (very few) do not charge over the medicare levy.
  • Costs per session range from $180 to $300
  • You will receive some of this back as a medicare rebate
  • You may be able to claim sessions through private health insurance

Social Workers

Social Workers have completed a four-year degree in Social Work. Part of their training includes practical placements and volunteer work.

The job of the social worker is to improve the overall well-being of the client by finding external resources to help the client’s situation. Since this job can sometimes overlap with other healthcare professionals, social workers function in collaboration with other professionals.

Things to remember about social workers:

  • They generally work for a government/community organisation and do not charge the individual personally
  • They work as part of a team of professionals,
  • They may deal with family, group or individual counseling.
  • They are focused on assisting individuals with external matters (housing, education, legal services, finances etc)

Counsellors

Anyone can call themselves a counsellor. A counsellor might have no more than a three-day course of training or may have a University level degree qualification

Counselling is typically concerned with immediate and practical issues such as processing grief or anger, helping the client identify options when making important personal or professional decisions, or building better interpersonal or communication skills.

Counsellors may work in fields such as marriage and family counselling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, or career and guidance fields. They may be found in mental health clinics, child and aged centres, drug and alcohol clinics, youth welfare or marriage guidance services.

Things to remember about counsellors

  • They may have no substantial qualification at all
  • They may work as part of a team of professionals,
  • You will not be eligible for Medicare or private health insurance rebates
  • This is usually a short term solution to an immediate issue

Weblinks

Therapies – Which is best for me?

How to find a practitioner 

The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

Australian Clinical Psychology Association 

Australian Psychological Society

Social Workers are different from Psychologists