Understanding the Differences Between Counsellors, Psychotherapists, and Psychologists in Australia.

psychotherapy vs psychologist


Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Psychologists in Australia. What is the difference?


What is the difference between counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists in Australia, and which one do I need to see? I do get asked this question a lot and I also hear other individuals asking the same question, to other professionals and to each other.  It is a good and very important question.

In this blog, I offer information from the consumer perspective as the organisation of mental health in Australia is like completing a 1000 piece puzzle! It makes sense when people tell me their experience with their “therapist” wasn’t quite what they thought it would be. It’s hard, if you’re not exactly sure who you are seeing and what you are investing in.  Each of these professions have their own training and registration pathways and own professional regulators. Only psychologists accept Medicare Mental Health Care Plans but all offer rebate services with a variety of Private Health Care providers. Collectively, all offer professional, valid and valuable support for your mental health.  We do need everyone.

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Keeping it Very Simple

Let’s take a look at some basics and then knit it all together.  I’ve kept it very simple on purpose and for my wonderful colleagues, go gently, this is to help our clients.

From the client or consumer perspective:

A counsellor is trained to treat a wide variety of life challenging situations.  The question a counsellor is contemplating is “What has happened to you in your life?” They provide supportive guidance and a range of strategies to help. Your symptoms are viewed in relation to your life experiences.

A psychotherapist is trained to focus on the unconscious processes of the mind that impact thoughts, feelings and behaviours.  It is usually longer term therapy which aims to expand your awareness and understanding of how you view yourself, others and the world, and importantly why?

A psychologist is trained to assess, diagnose and treat recognised mental health conditions and disorders in accordance with medical manuals called the DSM-V or ICD-11.  Symptom reduction is through the application of specific models of therapy and interventions.

In reality, there is a lot of crossover because each individual therapist (counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist)

  • has different professional goals and passions,
  • are focused on supporting different groups of people,
  • can choose to focus on specific models like EMDR or CBT,
  • and over a lifetime, experiences with their clients, their own personal journey and training, can align and re-align them to new and different professional pathways.

I know counsellors who specialise in treating complex trauma, psychologists who work from a psychotherapist lens, as well as counselors, psychotherapists and psychologists who all focus on couple relationship therapy.  I am a counsellor and a psychotherapist with a specialisation in knowledge and experience with ADHD….so I am not sure what that makes me! It is easy to be confused about who you might need to seek help from.

That is the layman’s version, read on for some more formal descriptions and information.

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Counsellors in Australia

Counsellor Definition and Role

Counsellors are mental health professionals trained to offer guidance, emotional support, and practical solutions to individuals experiencing a wide range of issues. These issues might include relationship problems, grief, stress management, and more. In Australia, counsellors often hold qualifications in counselling, psychology, social work, or related fields.

Counselling Approach and Techniques

Counsellors utilise a variety of psychological models . They work collaboratively with clients to identify concerns, explore coping strategies, and develop action plans. Techniques such as active listening, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and motivational interviewing are commonly employed by counsellors.

psychologist australia

Psychotherapists in Australia 

Psychotherapist Definition and Role

Psychotherapists are professionals trained to delve deeper into an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They aim to facilitate long-lasting change by exploring underlying patterns and addressing root causes of psychological issues. In Australia, psychotherapists come from diverse educational backgrounds, including psychology, psychiatry, and social work.

Psychotherapy Approaches and Techniques

Psychotherapists utilise a variety of approaches, such as psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy, and narrative therapy. These approaches often involve more in-depth exploration and analysis of a client’s history and experiences. Psychotherapists help clients gain insight into their emotional landscape and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Psychologists in Australia

Psychologist Definition and Role

Psychologists in Australia have specific training in psychology and are registered with the Psychology Board of Australia. They are equipped to assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of psychological disorders and mental health conditions. Psychologists often work in various settings, including clinical, educational, and organisational contexts.

Psychological Approaches and Techniques

Psychologists employ evidence-based techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and more. They focus on assessing clients’ mental states, conducting psychological assessments, and offer specific interventions matched to client psychological assessment outcomes. 

Differences and Overlaps 

While the roles of counsellors, psychotherapists, and psychologists each have unique characteristics, there is overlap among them. Both counsellors and psychotherapists offer talk therapy, but psychotherapy tends to be more intensive and delve deeper into emotional exploration. Psychologists diagnose mental health disorders but counsellors and psychotherapists do not.

Choosing the Right Professional for You

Selecting the appropriate mental health professional depends on your specific needs and preferences. If you require short-term support and practical solutions, a counsellor might be the right choice. Those seeking a more profound understanding of their emotions and behaviors may benefit from psychotherapy. Individuals seeking assessment for a diagnosable mental health condition should do so with a psychologist as psychotherapists and counsellors do not diagnose individuals with mental health disorders.

 Feeling Clearer? You might find further value in my blog “Finding the Perfect Counselling Therapist: The Key to Successful Therapy Outcomes”

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice.

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