The Differences Between A Counsellor, Psychotherapists, Psychologists & Psychiatrists

We have often heard of what a counsellor is, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, but what are they differences between them, and which do you need help from?

Now may be a time in your life where you need to seek professional help. It is no secret that life can have some significant hurdles and challenges, so having the support and guidance of someone who knows how to leverage your strengths and give you the stepping stones to overcome them is ideal. However, with the vast range of different people you can see for help, it might be confusing to know which one would be valuable for your particular needs. To give you more insight, here is a breakdown of each commonly used processional, how they differ, and how they are similar so you can seek the best one to fulfil your needs. It will hopefully also explain a little bit more of what Quest Psychology Service’s role is regarding being your counselling psychologist.

Dr Warwick graduating as a counselling psychologist

Dr Warwick graduating as a Counselling Psychologist from the University of Manchester

Counsellor

A Counsellor, who can also hold the title as a therapist, are people who are life advising and coaching practitioners. They work with clients to help them identify their goals, aspirations, potential and come up with viable solutions to problems that cause them emotional distress. They are great at growing communication, coping, self-esteem, and promoting positive behaviour.  Some counsellors work more generally over a wide range of issues, while there are others who specialise in certain areas such as depression, relationship problems, or children. Keep in mind that some counsellors offer non-licensed services, so make sure you find someone who is accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

To break it down into an easy to read list for you to absorb, in a nutshell:

  • A counsellor help you figure out and organise your problems and come up with healthy solutions to solve them. They work well with addressing issues you are currently facing so you can move forward to a better future.
  • Do not have the same extensive educational requirements or clinical licensing as other forms of therapy. They must at least have a diploma level training (2 years), but many can hold degrees (3 years) and masters (a total of 5 years training).
  • This is a good option for people who are already aware of and understand their wellbeing and know that they can resolve issues with insightful recommendations.
  • This is oftentimes a short-term process for long term mental health benefits. The actual duration can certainly vary depending on your situation, but in general, it is usually 12 weeks or less. If your mental health is more severe, they will most likely refer you to someone more equipped to handle your case and diagnose you.

Psychotherapists

Tapping into psychotherapists, this is where you can resolve emotional uses by modifying certain aspects of your life that make you vulnerable. These people are actually either a registered counsellor or psychologists who specialised in psychotherapy. People with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or other similar illnesses can be supported by a psychotherapist.

There are many different methods when it comes to this profession. For example, it could involve analysing dreams and exploring your history to dive into unconscious conflicts and bring them to a conscious level so you can deal with them. This route is very interchangeable with other therapies due to overlapping features, but the main things you can expect with a psychotherapist include:

  • Help with psychological issues that have been built up throughout your life. They will have you go back to your childhood and discuss different life circumstances up until the present day to get a good idea of how you were shaped and influenced.
  • Grasp a better understanding of your feelings, actions, and thoughts. Overall, this is a valuable way to live a happy, quality life and feel like you can reach your full potential.
  • Unlike counselling, this is a longer-termed process that will identify emotional issues tied with personal backgrounds and life challenges that have been faced. The method may be a longer one, but you are more than likely to come out, enlightened, and have a more substantial capability to take control of your life.

Counselling Psychologists

Next up are counselling psychologists. In the UK, counselling psychologists must complete a doctorate (a total of 8 years training from undergraduate to post-graduate) and are registered with the British Psychology Society (BPS) and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). These professionals are very similar to general counselling services, both addressing emotional issues and helping clients resolve them. Counselling psychology focuses on social, emotional, school, work, and physical health concerns for people during all stages of their lives. They target stresses, struggles, and work with clients to enrich their wellbeing, alleviate distressful feelings, and resolve crises. They can also provide an assessment, diagnose, and treat the more severe psychological symptoms you may have. The key difference is that whilst counsellors do use evidence-based practice, counselling psychologists must adhere to literature and research-based treatments.

Keep in mind that psychologists, whilst doctors, are not medical doctors, and cannot write prescriptions or perform any kind of medical procedure despite being trained in psychopharmacology.

Clinical Psychologists

A clinical psychologist is again someone trained to doctoral level. They are experts in the study of mind and behaviours, and they are great at evaluating and treating both mental and emotional disorders. In the UK, unlike counselling psychologists, they tend to work primarily within the NHS and prison services. Whereas counselling psychologists may also work in other settings like schools and charities. Historically there was more of a diagnostic focus within this discipline due to being trained to deliver diagnostic tests, evaluations, observations, and interviews to come up with disorder diagnoses. These people focus more on the theory, science, and clinical knowledge to understand their clients’ psychology to help them gain a better quality of life.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors registered with the General Medical Council (GMC), unlike the previous professions listed. These professionals specialise in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illnesses. Those who go into this career start with four years in medical school, partake in a one-year internship, and complete at least three years of specialised training as a psychiatric resident. These people are trained to differentiate mental health issues from other medical, underlying conditions that could cause psychiatric symptoms. They also monitor the effects of mental illness on other physical present conditions one may have. They are less likely to engage in the psychological therapy and more in the case management, diagnosis and medication side of care. 

Conclusion

The truth is that each category above are all very similar, but just different enough to make them excellent for people who are seeking specific needs in their niches. It is always nice to have a broad range of options to choose from when it comes to bettering your life and mental health. But knowing which person to go with can feel daunting when you are not fully aware of each profession. Because of that, use the information above to help you with your journey. Though it may feel like an uncertain, scary time for you, there is always someone out there who is more than willing to help you through it. Start by choosing the right category who targets what you need assistance with, and the rest, such as connecting with someone who understands you, will all fall into place organically.

Remember, nothing is as important as your overall health, and that includes your mental health. With that in mind, never give up, realise you deserve to be happy, and seeking help is not a weakness, it is courageous and inspirational.

Quest Psychology Services are specialists in providing psychology and counselling within Salford, Manchester. To discuss getting help yourself call us on 07932737335

8 thoughts on “The Differences Between A Counsellor, Psychotherapists, Psychologists & Psychiatrists

  1. Oscar Lasso says:

    Very interesting. In the USA we, clinical mental health psychotherapists, are trained to go into a specific field, and we have to be licensed to practice. Is there a reciprocity agreement between the US and UK? If I move to the UK with my license would they accept it and let me practice psychotherapy?

    • GregW says:

      Hi Oscar, there are great differences between the US and UK. To practice as a Psychotherapist you would need to contact the UKCP or BACP, the two accrediting bodies for counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK, and do a written exam to show that your training and qualification converted to their standards. All the best, Dr Warwick.

  2. Ashiru Wada says:

    Psychotherapists are those that are given assistance to the clients in solving their clients problems e.g like anxiety, phobias, trauma,
    On the other hand, psychologists are the people who have the knowledge for teaching others to have the knowledge skills in solving people problems.
    Psychiatrists are those who acquired the knowledge for treating mental illness people.

    • GregW says:

      Hi Ashiru, I agree with part of what you have said. It largely depends on the model that the organisation is working to and the type of psychologist. In the NHS you will find that in some services psychotherapists and counsellors see the majority of the clients whilst a psychologist supervises them. However, as you go up the NHS stepped care model you find that psychologists are seeing the clients with more complex or severe mental health problems. Psychiatrists in turn work with both of these professionals to predominantly provide mental health medication that GP’s aren’t allowed to prescribe and occasionally do talking therapies with clients themselves. But they also often come from a more medical model than what some psychologists do.

  3. Chris says:

    What specialist would be best suited to understanding and treating Anhedonia? I have been on anti-depressants for 6+ years but do not feel depressed, there are no outside things influencing my life to make me feel this way I feel I am in control of my life and have goals, however I do not feel anything like joy, positivity, pleasure & excitement and have been this way for roughly a decade. I feel it is a physical problem maybe in the brain and seek treatment for specifically Anhedonia and someone who specialises in this field. Thanks.

    • GregW says:

      Hi Chris, anhedonia is not recognised under the latest DSM-5 model and is categorised under major depressive disorder. That may confuse some inexperienced clinicians and make it slightly more difficult for them to tease that particular aspect of your presentation out rather than default to models for depression. Personally I would recommend looking for a psychologist or psychiatrist who has specialist experience in this. I would also recommend a review with your GP as anti-depressants can make us not experience pleasure. An approach that may be useful might include ACT and you may get something out of reading the book “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris.

  4. Dr. Reitman says:

    I’m a clinical psychologist and specializing in forensic psychology which you didn’t mention such as competency to stand trial. Not guilty by reason of insanity. Commitments etc.

  5. James says:

    I’m a clinical psychologist and where I work we refrain from using diagnostic labels wherever possible (we leave that to medicine) but instead formulate clients’ difficulties from the ground up, without trying to squeeze them into some predefined category. This is practically and philosophically very important!

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