Counsellor or Psychologist

What is the Difference Between a Counsellor and Psychologist?

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Written by Talked Team

23 Feb, 2022

There are many types of therapists and knowing which one to choose from can be tough. Two main types of therapists available in Australia are counsellors and psychologists. While they share some similarities they also vary in how they approach helping their clients, so it's important to understand the differences between a counsellor and psychologist.

Medicare Rebates

One of the biggest differences between a counsellor and psychologist is that counsellors are not covered by Medicare, which means, you can not claim a rebate when booking a therapy session with a counsellor.

While this may seem like booking with a psychologist is a no brainer, it's worth noting that you can still end up paying more for a session with a psychologist even with the rebate! For example, a psychologist may charge $210, for which you can claim back around $88, you've still paid $122 for the session, where as many counsellors charge $100 or less per session.

To claim a rebate from Medicare you must be examined by a doctor who will provide you with a mental health treatment plan and they must refer to a psychologist.

Regulation

In Australia, the practice of psychology is regulated by AHPRA, which is a government registration and accreditation scheme that ensures a certain standard of all psychologists is met.

Counselling is not regulated by the government, so technically anyone can call themselves a counsellor. But there are non-government organisations that act in a very similar way to AHPRA to help regulate the counselling industry. The two main organisations are ACA and PACFA. They both enforce a standard of education, training and ethics required by all their members.

It's important when booking with a counsellor to check that they are registered with one of these organisations. On Talked all our counsellors are verified and registered with either PACFA or ACA.

Education

In general, to become a psychologist requires more formal education, with the completion of a minimum of six years training. This training includes a minimum of one to two years of supervised clinical practice as well as 4 years of university study.

After this time they can become registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (PBA) and officially call themselves 'a Psychologist'. It’s a legal requirement in Australia for them to register with the PBA, which is a similar process that all regulated professions must undertake, such as doctors, lawyers and nurses.

For a counsellor the level of education and training varies depending on which organisation they are a member of and which level membership they hold. A counsellor who is a level 2 member of the Australian Counselling Association must attain:

  • A diploma of counselling

  • Have 2 years post diploma experience

  • Completed minimum 50 hours professional supervision

Counsellors who belong to Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) have higher requirements, which includes:

  • Bachelor degree (2+ years study)

  • Minimum of 400 hours of instruction in counselling/psychotherapy specific subjects

Approach to Therapy

Counsellors generally help with concerns and difficulties in everyday life, things such as grief or anger, relationship issues, low self esteem or anxiety. They have a more person-centred approach and will listen to your issues and work with you towards your goals.

A counsellor will often help their clients deal with immediate causes of their issues and provide techniques and actions that can be applied in practice.

Psychologists have training in diagnosis and will often start a new client off with a formal assessment. They are trained in the science of how people feel, think and behave, so will let the results of the assessment inform the strategies and treatments they suggest for the client. They often work with scientifically proven treatments and framework, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Because of this, a psychologist often works with people who has more serve mental health issues.

Private Insurance Rebates

Both counsellors and psychologists may be eligible for rebates from your private health insurance, you need to check your policy to confirm that your extras cover 'mental health services'.

Your health insurance will have a list of approved counsellors and psychologists you can use, we've made it find a therapist for your health fund, such as Bupa, Medibank Private and more.

Which one is right for me?

While the differences between a counsellor and psychologist may seem great, at the end of the day they are both here to help you. If they are not qualified to provide you help, then they will be open and honest and refer you to someone else.

If you have a serious mental health issue (such as bipolar disorder) or you are looking for a 'diagnosis' then you should see a psychologist, but if you are wanting help with issues that arise in life, such as stress and relationships it may be beneficial to reach out to a counsellor.

We've made it easy for you to find the right counsellor or psychologist, by giving you the ability to book a free 15 minute session with any of the therapists on Talked. This session will give you the time and space to ask questions and for the therapists to assess whether they are right for you.

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