I receive a lot of questions about the differences between different health care professionals. Before entering the field, I didn’t understand the difference between clinical counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists either.
Here is a quick break down:
Counsellors who are registered as Registered Clinical Counsellors (RCC) or Canadian Clinical Counsellors (CCC) have a minimum of a master’s level education. For the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCAC), “clinical counselling uses established mental health principles, values and techniques to aid you in achieving insight into existing challenges, gaining new skills and capacities, and earning emotional freedom from historical issues”. Unfortunately, counselling in much of Canada, including British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Newfoundland is not regulated. This means that counsellors do not need any specific qualifications to practice—some may have a 6-month diploma, some no formal training at all, and others, a master’s degree. This means that there is a lot of variability in the kind and quality of counselling services offered. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that in BC your counsellor is an RCC or CCC.
A psychotherapist typically has a master’s level of education and may receive similar training to counsellors. In fact, psychotherapy and counselling have a lot of similarities and usually mean the same thing. Whereas counselling is sometimes understood as shorter-term, psychotherapy can be thought of as exploring challenges more deeply.
Registered psychologists in BC have earned PhD’s—really the difference between a counsellor and a psychologist is their amount of schooling and what they are qualified to do. Psychologists can provide diagnoses. While counsellors may have extensive knowledge, under law they are not able to diagnose mental health conditions. Psychologists can also provide assessments (e.g. cognitive, forensic, and parenting assessments), and lead psychotherapy. Psychologists have received extensive supervision and training and are regulated through the British Columbia Psychological Association (BCPA).
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized in mental health and mental disorders. Psychiatrists today often support patients with medication and some also provide psychotherapy or counselling. Often, a client will work with a psychiatrist or family physician for medication support, and concurrently see a psychologist for psychotherapy.
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