Psychologists and Therapists

Psychologist vs Therapist: What's the Difference?

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Written by Talked Team

29 Mar, 2022

The difference between a therapist vs psychologist is that a psychologist is a specific type of therapist. The term “therapist” is broad, covering several types of mental health professionals, including psychologists. At talked.com.au, you’ll find a wide range of therapists, including psychologists.

Addressing your mental health is a journey, and it begins with deciding which mental health professional you need to see. It’s easy to feel exhausted looking at the different kinds of mental health professionals that are available, as well as the extensive terminology that gets bandied about regarding each one. 

The terms ‘therapist’ and ‘psychologist’ are used somewhat interchangeably, which can be quite confusing if you aren’t aware of why that is. The difference between the terms ‘therapist’ and ‘psychologist’ is actually quite minor, but having an understanding of that difference will help you decide which mental health professional you need to aid you on your mental health journey.

That is why we have put together this guide. So, when it comes to a therapist vs psychologist, you understand what you need.

What is the relationship between the term ‘therapist vs psychologist’?

As mentioned above, a Therapist is a blanket term that covers a wide range of mental health professions, which just so happen to include psychologists. So, when you consider the phrase ‘therapist vs psychologist’, what you’re really talking about is whether or not you need a psychologist or another mental health professional.

What does a psychologist do? 

Psychologists are health care professionals who deal with human behaviour, thoughts, and emotions through talk therapy and behaviour therapy. Psychologists are not medical doctors, which means they are not required to attend a medical school and can't prescribe medication. Essentially, this is the difference between psychologists and other types of therapists.

Psychologists do not have medical credentials, however they do need a Master's Degree and a Doctorate. Some undertake further training in clinical psychology, neuropsychology, forensic psychology, etc. 

It isn't uncommon for psychologists to specialise in a variety of mental health disorders that can include:

  • Anxiety, stress and depression 

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Relationship and marital issues 

  • Domestic violence 

  • Grief

  • Eating disorders

  • Sleep and insomnia 

Psychologists also provide additional counselling and therapy services to help people improve the quality of their day-to-day lives. This includes the provision of guidance and support, as well as the teaching of coping strategies to people under extreme stress, experiencing learning difficulties or undergoing significant life changes.

What other kinds of therapists are there besides psychologists?

Aside from psychologists, there are three other kinds of therapists available: counsellors, psychotherapists and social workers.

Counselling is a process of therapy that involves talking about and working through one’s personal problems with a counsellor. The role of the counsellor is to address the client’s problems in a positive way by helping them to clarify the issues, explore options, develop strategies and increase self-awareness. While counsellors take a more person-centred approach during therapy, in which their goal is to help the patient articulate their feelings, psychologists take a more medical approach in which their goal is to clinically assess and diagnose the patient.

Learn about more about the differences between a counsellor and psychologist.

Psychotherapists specialise in the field of psychotherapy, which is a more long-term approach to therapy. Psychotherapy intensively and extensively examines a person’s psychological history in order to aid a person through their mental health journey. A psychotherapist goes much deeper to uncover root causes of problems, resulting in more dramatic changes in perspective regarding oneself, one’s life experience, and the world in general.

Social workers address mental health issues from a social perspective, assisting people who need therapy or information about mental health issues. Social workers also work to address social injustice on behalf of individuals and organisations, providing help in a number of situations including child wellbeing and protection, domestic and family violence, homelessness and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Some social workers may work in a particular area, such as youth services or as refugee advocates.

What is the overlap between all of these kinds of therapists?

The goal of all therapists is to address mental health problems, and they all achieve this by providing therapy. Even if their individual approaches are different, therapists share a wide range of specialties, such as:

  • play therapy (for young children)

  • marriage, divorce, or couples counselling

  • family counselling

  • grief counselling

  • social work

  • life coaching

  • multicultural training

  • career counselling

  • community counselling

  • school counselling

  • substance abuse

  • addiction counselling

These traits do not make any type of therapist better. All this means is that certain therapists are better suited to tend to certain kinds of patients. Ultimately, you should aim for the mental health care professional that will address your individual needs, whether it’s a psychologist or a different kind of therapist. 

Can I claim Medicare rebates from all therapists?

In general only psychologists, clinical psychologists and some social workers are covered by the Medicare scheme, meaning you can claim back part of the cost through Medicare.

Normally, you still need to pay for the appointments up front and then you submit your claim to Medicare for your refund. You may also find some psychologists who bulk bill, which means you pay nothing out of your own pocket, but there aren't many psychologists who do this, because the fee they get for the appointment is much smaller (around $88).

Counsellors, psychotherapists and most social workers are not covered by Medicare, so you can not claim a rebate. But, a benefit is that you don't need a MHCP or referral and they are often less expensive (even considering the Medicate rebate), so many people opt for booking with a counsellor instead.

Keep in mind that you can see a psychologist without a referral, you just wont be able to claim your rebate from Medicare.

What happens if I make the wrong decision?

This is an incorrect mindset to have. While it is understandable that people think there is a right or wrong answer as to whether a psychologist or therapist is the right decision, the fact of the matter is that this is not the case.

We said earlier that “assessing your mental health is a journey”. This journey is never straightforward or direct. It involves a lot of experimentation, trial and error. If you select a psychologist or therapist, only to find that their solutions are not working for your mental health, the solution to this problem is actually pretty simple.

The first step is not to panic or give up. When a mental health solution is not working, the temptation is to assume the worst, but this is actually fairly normal. All you need to do is discuss with your current professional what changes need to be made to your approach. This can mean a variety of things, such as seeing a therapist with different specialties, or switching to a psychologist.

We've made it easy for you to have free 15 minute therapy sessions with as many therapists as you like to make sure you connect with the right one.

The important thing to remember is that these moments should not be considered failures. Instead, they are another important step towards getting the mental health treatment that you need.

Remember to always consult your GP if you are concerned or unsure about your mental health.

How can I find therapists, such as a psychologist? 

If you are still unsure whether to see a psychologist or a different kind of therapist, it is important to consider the following: 

  • Your primary concerns and potential diagnosis

  • The kind of treatment you wish to undertake (i.e. spend time talking about an issue with a psychologist vs. pursuing medications for symptom relief via therapists).

  • The severity and longevity of your condition (remember, a Therapist will be more likely to diagnose and treat a severe condition than a psychologist)

When choosing psychologists, or a different kind of therapist, pay attention to the following:

  • Their accreditations 

  • Main areas of interest and experience 

  • What your budget is and whether you'll be claiming a rebate from Medicare or your private health insurance

At Talked, we are passionate about making mental health support accessible to everybody. We aim to provide you with the tools you need to connect with qualified therapists (including psychologists) easily and quickly. 

It is important that you assess different options to find a professional that suits your individual goals, regardless of whether you’re looking for psychologists, or other kinds of therapists. 

All of the therapists on Talked are qualified, professionally trained and verified, so if you're ready to take that next step, get started today.

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