Attending counselling for the first time

What’s the difference between a Counsellor, a Psychologist, and a Psychiatrist?

Quite often people use the terms counsellor and psychologist interchangeably, or psychologist and psychiatrist interchangeably.

These 3 mental health specialists are the most sought out when it comes to treatment for mental health concerns. So if you’re considering getting treatment, or are supporting a loved one, it can be helpful to know which professional to reach out to!

The greatest differences among these professions are in the amount of and type of education that these healthcare professionals have pursued, which determines what they are qualified to do.


  • Will have a master’s degree (MA, MEd, MC)
  • “Counsellor” is not a protected title in BC (technically anyone can call themselves a counsellor or therapist). In BC, a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) or Certified Clinical Counsellor (CCC) needs to hold a master’s degree, has to meet specific eligibility criteria, and has to undergo specific supervision and clinical hour requirements to become registered. Make sure to do your homework and ask your counsellor about their credentials.
  • Are qualified to evaluate and treat mental health concerns and diagnoses.
    • Counsellors provide psychotherapy. Approaches vary and most counsellors should provide empirically-supported therapeutic approaches (meaning research has shown this approach to be effective).
    • Typical sessions are 50 – 60 minutes in length.


  • Will typically have a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD),
    • However, some provinces (e.g. Alberta & Saskatchewan) only require psychologists to have a masters degree and to have passed a qualifying exam with a specific (and very high) amount of supervised clinical counselling hours.
  • Are qualified to evaluate and treat mental health concerns and diagnoses.
    • Psychologists provide psychotherapy.  Just like counselling, approaches can vary and most therapy should be empirically-supported.
  • Can provide assessments and diagnose mental disorders.
  • They are not able to prescribe medications.
  • Typical sessions are 50 – 60 minutes in length.


  • Are medical doctors (MD)
  • Are qualified to evaluate and treat mental health concerns and diagnoses
  • Are qualified to assess, diagnose, and prescribe medication.
    • Most psychiatrists will choose to treat mental health diagnoses with psychotropic medications.
    • However, contrary to popular belief, there are psychiatrists who use psychotherapy as a treatment option.
    • If you have a preference to not use medication as a form of treatment, speak up and let your psychiatrist know. If they only provide medication and not psychotherapy, ask them (or your family doctor) to refer you to someone who can.
  • A typical intake session can be around an hour to 90 minutes.  Follow-up appointments tend to be much shorter in length.



  • Get clear on what your intentions are for seeking treatment, this will help you make a decision in what professional to see. For example, are you looking for a formal diagnosis? Do you think you want medication? Do you want to see someone for ongoing therapeutic counselling?
  • Ask about their credentials and qualifications.
  • You can see more than 1 mental health professional at a time, depending on your needs.
  • Shop around to find a mental health professional that fits best for you; it’s ok to have a few initial conversations before settling on someone who you feel is the right fit (with therapists especially this is common practice).


Are you looking to feel more supported through life’s challenges?

We have a team of counsellors that can help you deal with whatever life challenge you are faced with. If you’re not sure what kind of support you need, we’ll be happy to match you with a counsellor who can help.

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