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Should I See a Psychologist or Counsellor?

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Written by Emmy Stephens

Masters in Psychology

19 Sep, 2023

Navigating the mental health landscape can sometimes be confusing. As awareness and understanding about mental well-being increase, many Australians are considering seeking professional help. But with a range of professionals out there, like psychologists and counsellors, it's easy to get overwhelmed. If you're contemplating which professional is right for you, read on for insights tailored to the Australian health industry.

Understanding the Difference

Before diving into which professional might be best for you, it's crucial to understand the distinction between a psychologist and a counsellor.

Psychologist:

  • A psychologist has a degree in psychology, which typically includes a four-year undergraduate degree and further postgraduate studies. In Australia, they're registered with the Psychology Board of Australia and must meet strict standards to maintain this registration.

  • Psychologists use a range of techniques and therapies based on scientific research. They're trained to diagnose, treat, and prevent a wide range of mental health and behavioural issues.

Counsellor:

  • Counsellors, on the other hand, may come from various educational backgrounds. The term "counsellor" isn't regulated in the same way as "psychologist" in Australia. That said, many professional associations, such as the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA), maintain membership standards that counsellors must meet.

  • Counsellors provide talk therapy and are trained to assist clients in exploring their feelings, beliefs, and behaviours, working through challenging or influential memories, and setting personal goals.

The number of Australians seeing a psychologist vs seeing a counsellor is estimated to be the same, with 1 in 10 seeing a psychologist and 1 in 10 seeing a counsellor.

Assessing Your Needs

Your decision might hinge on what you're looking to achieve:

Short-term Issues

If you're dealing with a specific issue like stress, grief, or relationship problems and are seeking a space to discuss and unpack these concerns, a counsellor might be your best choice. They provide a supportive environment to talk through problems and offer coping techniques.

Deeper Psychological Concerns

If you suspect you have a more deeply rooted psychological issue, such as depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, or phobias, a psychologist might be more appropriate. They can provide a formal diagnosis and offer evidence-based treatments.

Financial Considerations

In Australia, the health system offers a degree of support for those needing psychological services:

Medicare

If referred by a GP under a Mental Health Treatment Plan, Medicare provides a rebate for up to 10 individual and 10 group sessions with a psychologist per calendar year. This makes seeing a psychologist more affordable for many Australians. However, you might still need to cover a gap fee.

Medicare and Counsellors

While psychologists can be accessed with the assistance of Medicare rebates, it's important to note that counsellors are not currently covered under the Medicare scheme in Australia. This means that if you choose to see a counsellor, you'll need to bear the full cost unless you have private health insurance that provides coverage for counselling sessions. However, even with private health insurance, the degree of coverage can vary, so it's crucial to check your policy's specifics. The absence of Medicare rebates for counsellors might impact your decision, especially if you anticipate needing multiple sessions or have budgetary constraints. It's an essential factor to consider when weighing the costs and benefits of each professional's services.

Private Health Insurance

Depending on your cover, you might be able to claim a portion of the session costs for both psychologists and counsellors. It's crucial to check with your insurer.

Building a Relationship

Regardless of the distinctions between psychologists and counsellors, one crucial aspect remains paramount: the therapeutic relationship you establish with your chosen professional. Mental health journeys are deeply personal, and the efficacy of therapy often hinges on the trust and rapport between therapist and client. Whether you opt for a psychologist or a counsellor, it's essential to find someone you genuinely 'gel' with — someone who listens, understands, and supports your individual needs. It's perfectly okay to have initial sessions with multiple professionals until you find that special connection. After all, therapy is a space for vulnerability, growth, and healing, and the right match can make all the difference in your therapeutic journey.

Remember, it's okay to "shop around" until you find someone with whom you genuinely connect. With Talked you can book free therapy sessions so you can meet different therapists and ensure that they are the right one for you.

Additional Training and Specialities

Both psychologists and counsellors can undergo additional training to specialise in various areas, such as child psychology, addiction, or trauma counselling. If you have a specific concern, it's worth seeking a professional who has specialised training or experience in that area.

Integration with the Broader Health System

Psychologists often work within the broader medical system, which means they might have closer ties with GPs, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals. This can be beneficial if you're dealing with multifaceted health issues that require a team-based approach.

On the other hand, counsellors might operate more independently, which some clients find provides a more personal, holistic approach.

Psychologist vs Counsellor Differences

Parameter

Psychologist

Counsellor

Educational Background

- Typically hold a degree in psychology (four-year undergraduate plus postgraduate studies)

- Registered with the Psychology Board of Australia.

- May come from various educational backgrounds.

- Not regulated in the same way, but many are members of professional associations like PACFA.

Scope of Practice

- Trained to diagnose, treat, and prevent a wide range of mental health and behavioural issues.

- Uses evidence-based treatments.

- Provides talk therapy.

- Assists clients in exploring feelings, beliefs, and behaviours.

Medicare Rebate

- Eligible for Medicare rebates when referred by a GP under a Mental Health Treatment Plan.

- Not covered under Medicare. Clients often bear the full cost unless covered by private health insurance.

Specialisation

- Can undergo additional training to specialise (e.g., child psychology, clinical psychology, health psychology).

- Might have additional training or focus areas (e.g., grief counselling, relationship counselling).

Approach

- Often works within the broader medical system. Can collaborate with GPs, psychiatrists, and other professionals.

- Might operate more independently, offering a personal and holistic approach.

Regulation

- Heavily regulated by the Psychology Board of Australia. Must meet strict standards for registration and practice.

- The term "counsellor" isn't strictly regulated, but professional associations like PACFA have membership standards.

Cost

- Costs can be higher, but many clients can access Medicare rebates.

- Costs can vary widely, but without Medicare rebates, out-of-pocket expenses might be higher unless covered by insurance.

Common Reasons to Visit

- Depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, phobias, and other deeper psychological concerns.

- Life transitions, relationship issues, stress, grief, and other specific or short-term challenges.

In Conclusion

Choosing between a psychologist and a counsellor ultimately depends on your individual needs, the nature of the issues you're dealing with, and your financial situation. Both professions offer valuable services aimed at supporting mental well-being.

If you're unsure, a good first step is to book a free consultation with either a psychologist or counsellor and they can offer guidance and provide information on how they will work with you throughout your therapy journey.

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and the most crucial step is reaching out. Whether you decide on a psychologist, a counsellor, or another mental health professional, you're taking a commendable step towards prioritising your well-being.

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Emmy Stephens

Masters in Psychology

Emmy Stephens has her Master's degree in psychology and has been writing mental health articles for more than 6 years. Earning her degree did more than furthering her education in psychology but also gave her a passion for researching complex subjects and writing reliable and helpful information.

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