What’s the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a therapist and a counsellor?

Robert Street Clinic

Making the decision to seek help and start therapy is momentous, but if you have never been to counselling before, you may feel at a loss to know how to go about choosing who to see. Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist or Psychiatrist… What is the difference?

Psychologists, psychotherapists, therapists and counsellors all practice talking therapy and the main difference between them is generally in the qualifications and training background but whichever professional is best suited to your needs. A psychiatrist however is a doctor equipped to prescribe medical management of mental illness.

Let’s look a little closer at each:


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed their general medical training and specialised in psychiatry. 

Psychiatrists are generally seen for ongoing medical management of medications, such as anti-depressants, mood stabilisers, sleeping tablets and other medical treatments.  They are able to prescribe medications not available to your general practitioner and can advise your GP about other treatment options.  While some psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy, they are, however, more likely to refer you to a counsellor, a psychotherapist or a psychologist.


Psychologists are trained in more short-term symptom-focussed treatments for acute mental health problems, while psychotherapists tend to deal with longer term therapy for deep-rooted issues such as childhood trauma or relationship problems.

Counsellors and Therapists

Some countries call them therapists, some counties call them counsellors, but they are similar on a professional level.

Counsellors and Therapists specialise in helping to deal with specific issues in specific areas like couples counselling, addictions counselling or vocational counselling.

Psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors will also usually tend to favour certain therapy frameworks which are particularly effective at treating certain disorders, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for example. During your first session, they will explain to you how they work, which will help you to make sure that you are comfortable with their approach and whether they are the right person for you.

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