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What's The Difference?

People often find themselves asking “What's the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers and psychotherapists? And which is best suited to me and my needs?”

A psychotherapist is the broad term given to all practitioners in the field of psychology. A psychotherapist interacts with patients to initiate change in the patient's thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.


Psychology seeks to understand and explain thought, emotion, and behaviour. Applications of psychology include mental health treatment, performance enhancement, self-help, ergonomics, and many other areas affecting health and daily life. Psychologists differ in their areas of specialty and their level of expertise. Psychologists study human behaviour, conduct research and apply research findings in order to reduce distress and behavioural and psychological problems, and to promote mental health and rational behaviour in individuals and groups. Psychologists work on a broad range of issues and their clientele can include children, adults, couples, families and organisations.


Psychiatrists are specialist medical practitioners who diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioural disorders, and prescribe medications and treatment to promote or restore good health. To practice, psychiatrists must study medicine at university and then undertake one year of full-time employment (internship) at a recognised teaching hospital to be able to gain full registration as a medical practitioner with the Medical Board.

The Australian Psychological Society also offers further useful information about the differences between psychologists and psychiatrists – go to www.psychology.org.au/community/about.


Counsellors assist people to better understand themselves by explaining options, setting goals and helping them to take action. Most professional counsellors will have a degree or diploma in counselling, psychology or social work.

Social Workers:

Social workers help people to deal with personal and social problems, either directly or by planning or carrying out programs that benefit groups or communities. To become a social worker you usually have to study social work at university.

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