• Q&A with Australian Health Experts

    What is the difference between a Psychologist, Counsellor and Social Worker?

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    Mary Jane Beach

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    Family Therapy is my passion, I worked at Redbank House for 10 years, working intensely with families, primarily with children with behaviour difficulties. Then and ... View Profile
    Sometimes there is not a lot of difference. If social workers are involved in doing therapy, then they have exactly the same role as a counsellor. It is a different University degree, but often the work is extremely similar.
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    anonymous

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    A helpful resource is the Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (ARCAP) which provides a list of registered counsellors and psychotherapists across Australia.  More information about levels of qualification and experience for counsellors and psychotherapists, as well as a search function are available at the following website http://www.arcapregister.com.au/  .  For psychological support, go to the Australian Psychological Society ( http://www.psychology.org.au/ )  and for social work support, go to the Australian Association of Social Workers ( http://www.aasw.asn.au/ ).
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    Grant Dempsey

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    With a passion to see people move forward and break free from the barriers holding them back, Grant is a highly experienced counsellor with over ... View Profile
    Some good answers there and the above links are a good resource. Another consideration for the client is if the cost of their counselling/treatment is being covered by a third party who may place requirements re registration etc, eg registered Psychologist.
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    Ivan Bakich

    Clinical Psychologist · Counsellor · Hypnotherapist · Psychotherapist · Sex Therapist

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    I work in the area of Clinical Psychology including Testing, Intellectual Assessments and Basic Neuropsychological Assessments. I am also a Psychotherapist, Marital/Couples and Family Therapist, ... View Profile
    The difference between a Counsellor, Psychologist, and Social Worker, I feel, has not been adequately explained in the above answers. My understanding was that the person who posted this question wanted to know what background, qualifications, training, and experience, does each of these three professions have?! Non e vero?

    Although Counsellors now have some check in place, still, anyone can call himself/herself a counsellor. From the religious orders and priests, pastors, and ministers to legal representatives - all are “counsellors”! Counsellors training is ususally done through a Counselling College-which is a non-accredited organisation and usually, not affiliated with universities although some universities have Bachelors Degrees in Counselling. These Degrees and Counselling Diplomas are not recognised by professional bodies such as the Australian Psychological Society (APS), AHPRA and Psychology Board of Australia. Counsellors are not elligible for medicare claims.

    A Psychologist suggests a 4-year-trained person who obtained either a three-year Bachelors Degree in Psychology from a recognised university plus a fourth-year Diploma in Psychology followed by a 2 years supervised experience by a qualified psychologist. As such, a 4+2 year-trained psychologist is qualified to be registered by the AHPRA. Elligible to claim on medicare.

    A Clinical Psychologist, on the other hand, is a person who has completed 4 years in Psychology such as Bachelors Degree with Honours plus 2 year specialist Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology followed by 2 years supervision which is 8 years all together. Eligible to claim services on medicare with higher rates of pay than Generalist Psychologists (e. g., 4-year trained psychologists).

    A Social Worker usually completed 4 year Bachelor Degree in Social Work from a recognised university. Some social workers work with policies; some specialise in working with clients, children and families. Thet are elligible to claim on medicare.

    Although these professions may work and perform similar tasks, they cannot be viewed as “same” ?!

    Although some institutions such as Rivendell Child and Adolescent Unit, where I was on clinical placement some time ago try to “equate” clinical psychologist with a social worker, these institutions came under fierce criticism because clinical psychologists' training and experience cannot be “equated” with a social worker even if both perform similar roles. If interested, please contact the Australian Clinical Psychology Association (ACPA) - a vibrant organisation of clinical psychologists.

    Best of luck to all…

    Ivan S. Bakich
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    Grant Dempsey

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    With a passion to see people move forward and break free from the barriers holding them back, Grant is a highly experienced counsellor with over ... View Profile
    Ivan has done a good job on outlining the qualifications of a Psychologists and I think this post shows there is probably a need for Healthshare to have a FAQ document outlining the specific qualification/registration differences as well as the skill differences. In my experience consumers have very little understanding of the differences between a Clinical Psychologist and a counsellor, for example I had a couple come to me who had initially seen a perky 24 year old female Psychologist whose only experience in counselling was probably Egan's "The Skilled Helper'. She may have been a terrific Psychologist but the husband walked out and it took several months before he went back for couples counselling. The point here is I think that clients assume Psychologists counsel and Counsellors do Psychology so a paper specifying the differences would be useful for visitors to this site, and others. Of course there are people who proficiently do both (as opposed to those who say they are ‘specialists’ in everything - these people should be avoided) but for the sake of clarity it would be worth clarifying the fundamental differences in academic and practical skills. 
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    Ash Rehn

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    Mental Health practitioner, Medicare Provider, Counsellor & Therapist specialising in 'sex addiction', pornography issues, gay counselling, online therapy. For more information: www.ForwardTherapy.com View Profile
    Further to your point Grant, I would add that psychology, social work and counselling are vast fields and having one of these titles in itself is no guarantee that the practitioner will be suitable for assisting in a particular situation or circumstances. For example, while clinical psychologists tend to be specialists in mental health and sometimes counselling, an educational psychologist or an organisational psychologist might be more occupied with testing and assessments than, say, marital therapy or sexuality counselling.

    On the other hand, just because someone is a ‘counsellor’ does not mean they have been trained or are competant to administer the specialist diagnostic tools that a clinical psychologist has access to.

    As each of these fields becomes more professionalised and specialised, service users will hopefully find it easier to access the practitioner who will best suit them. I don't see this as a situations where professions need to compete, but an opportunity for accrediting bodies to help us be clearer about our specialisations and how we can help.

    Incidentally, I have found this link that clarifies differences between some of the allied health professionals:

    http://cdm.ahpa.com.au/HealthcareProfessionals/AlliedHealthProfessionals/MentalHealthSocialWorkers/tabid/155/Default.aspx
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    anonymous

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    Years of training are important of course, and I share Ivan's concern regarding anyone being able to set up shop and call themselves a counsellor, especially if they have no qualifications..  Yet there are many experienced and well qualified counsellors who are not registered psychologists.  This shouldn't  negate their skills and ability to work with people in need.  The same applies with social workers.

    Counsellors assist clients to clarify the issues affecting them so they can see their way and the options ahead of them more clearly,  while a psychologist also does this, but in addition works with clients  to help promote behavioural change, using a range of techniques, preferably evidence based in nature.

    Counselling psychologists, who have exactly the same amount of training (including a specialist masters degree) as clinical psychologists,  were excluded from the higher Medicare remuneration because of the whiteanting and political ploys of a minority faction within the psychology profession.

    Ivan's  fourth paragraph states that a clinical psychologist has eight years of training, while a generalist psychologist has only four. Yet while he included  two years of supervision in the clinical psychologists eight years  this two years was omitted  for generalist psychologists, who should by this formula be acknowledged as having six years training, not just four..   

    We have to be careful not to let elitism  cloud the reality of who can satisfactorily do what, for to do so means that many well qualified, skilled and experienced practitoners will be unfairly viewed as inferior and excluded from working in the field of their expertise.
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    Alana Howells

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    I am an experienced psychologist who works with children, adults, and couples. I draw from contemporary psychological theories, tailoring my approach to your individual needs. ... View Profile
    As Ivan notes, there are differences in training and registration requirements for social workers, counsellors, and psychologists.

    A social worker has typically completed a four-year degree in Social Work, and may or may not have conducted counselling as part of their degree or subsequent work experience. Many social workers complete additional training in counselling in order to acquire these skills. As Ivan has noted, some social workers can provide services under Medicare, but need to be assessed as having a certain level of clinical skills. Social workers do not need to be registered with a professional body.

    The term “counsellor” is used broadly in Australia, and as has been noted, anyone can call themselves as counsellor as they do not need to be registered with a professional body. This means that the qualifications and skills of counsellors can vary widely. It is best to speak to individual counsellors to learn more about their qualifications and experience.

    Unlike counsellors and social workers, psychologists need to be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia in order to call themselves a psychologist. Psychologists do a minimum of six years of training, involving at least four years at university. Specialist psychologists (e.g. clinical, educational and developmental, sports, and so on) currently need to complete eight years of training, involving at least six years at university. All psychologists need to complete a certain amount of continuing professional development in order to maintain their registration, which is a way of ensuring that psychologists have a high level of skill and training.

    The links that Chris provides above are also helpful in understanding these differences.
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    Ash Rehn

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    Mental Health practitioner, Medicare Provider, Counsellor & Therapist specialising in 'sex addiction', pornography issues, gay counselling, online therapy. For more information: www.ForwardTherapy.com View Profile
    Just as a clarification to Alana's post… Graduates of 4 year Social Work degrees that are accredited by the AASW (Australian Association of Social Workers) all have theoretical knowledge of, and practical experience in counselling as per the curriculum requirements for AASW course accreditation. Counselling skills are a core part of Bachelor of Social Work courses at Australian schools of social work.

    In addition, the Australian Association of Social Workers is the accrediting body on behalf of Medicare Australia and the Australian Government for assessment of Accredited Mental Health Social Workers. Successful applicants are able to apply to Medicare Australia for a Medicare Provider Number and access referrals under the following Government funded programs (similar to some Clinical Psychologists). Accredited Mental Health Social Workers, must meet certain practice standards, require at least 2 years (post qualifying) supervised social work practice experience in mental health or related field and must maintain continuing professional development requirements.

    Registration of social workers in Australia is likely to commence quite shortly. In addition, the Australian College of Social Work has been established to recognise, acknowledge and reward the highest professional standards and qualifications that social workers offer.
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    Kristen Ross

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    Kristen Ross is a qualified Kinesiologist, Counsellor and Sports Therapist. Affinity Wellness is her holistic wellness practice offering a holistic wellness experience by focusing on ... View Profile
    Just to make things more confusing it's also important to point out the difference between a ‘psychologist’ and a ‘clinical psychologist’ as many psychologists go into ‘counselling’ practice after completing their initial psychology qualification. 

    I interpret the question differently to Ivan, if the querant wants to know the basics I would explain it this way. 
    A psychologist studies the science of behaviour and development and approaches the client's problem from an analytical perspective. 
    A counsellor is trained to listen to the client and to provide the space for that client to come to their own conclusions about how to approach their problem. 
    Social workers often take on a counselling role with their clients when necessary (I won't comment too much on this one as my exposure to social work has been minimal). 
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    anonymous

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    Yes it is an interesting question - the key point is that there are many different paths to becoming a counsellor or therapist. Focussing on the degree or qualification that someone might have done that then led to their professional identity isn't necessarily the best way to chose the right person.

    There is an enormous public misconception that psychology is the go-to professional to seek help with mental health issues and the APS and some of its members like to reinforce this at every opportunity. It simply isn't the case. Psychologists are simply one in a range of professionals who may be able to help. And many psychologists practising currently, who may have qualified in the 80s or 90s have had very little actual counselling training, and often no personal therapy or ongoing supervision at all !

    I say this with conviction ! I used to manage a counselling scheme that contracted to counsellors, clin psychs, psychologists social workers and I can say categorically that there was no evidence that the actual professional background of the counsellor made any difference to the client outcomes/or satisfaction or recovery. Indeed the examples of poor practice that I did know about fell pretty equally amongst the professional groups.

    Consumers of mental health services would be wise to research carefully, contact the person they think they may wish to make an appointment with and ask them questions about their training, interests, experience, and whether they undertake professional development and/or have a supervised practice. They should also check whether the practitioner is registered. Sometimes it is interesting to ask whether they have undertaken their own therapy - but often only the very brave will venture there.

    The more the ‘field’ of counselling accepts that the whole hierarchy of professionals thinking is unhelpful to consumers and a myth in  terms of skills and experience and suitability the more successful people will find their healing journeys.
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    Beverley Aronstan Pro

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    I am a registered psychologist with many years of counselling experience in the field of relationships and fertility issues. In particular my focus is on ... View Profile
    • Bondi Junction, NSW 0415629096
    Hi
    It is a very interesting question
    I guess the degrees are different with a different theorectical stance or modality However whether a counsellor social worker or psychologist in order to be a therapist you all need good counselling skills, the ability to listen and reflect back to the client what they might be thinking or feeling so that they can make sense of their life.
    Essentially if you have the ability to stay with the client in their journey and work with them at their pace it is genrally what the client needs regardless of how many or what qualification you might have..
    Psychologists have the ability to conduct psychometric and personality tests in order to work out a diagnosis and give valuable and insightful advice about intervention and treatment. This might be inclusive of a referral to a medical or psychiatric specialist or a couples or family or child therapist.
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    David Lawson

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    We all have times when we need to talk with a person who really listens to us, someone outside our family or social circle - ... View Profile
    Education and training is a big difference which I summarise as:

    If you want a diagnosis or assesment done then you need to go to a pschologist.

    If you want someone to listen to you and your concerns without judging you then you need to see a counsellor.
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    I am struggling to know how a therapist can engage in “ listening without judging” , without some level of diagnosis or assesment. Surely it is necessary to know what we are dealing with before we can engage in the appropriate type of listening that is such an important part of psychological counselling.
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    Grant Dempsey

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    With a passion to see people move forward and break free from the barriers holding them back, Grant is a highly experienced counsellor with over ... View Profile
    I'd sugest that by actively listening and engaging the client you will find what the core issues really are. It is easy to diagnose on the presenting behaviours/symptoms/behaviours and go to ‘treat’ them and completely miss the underlying issue, just look at depression. GP's etc diagnose depression and treat with medication which I think generally makes matters worse and prolongs the real treatment.

    I've worked with clients where it has taken months before they disclose some key information - it has taken that long for me to build trust and respect with them - generally because previous ‘helpers’ have immediately switched into ‘treatment’ mode when they have revealled this infomation.  

    However, when I initially see clients I do a bit of a safety audit with them, if I ‘diagnose’ the client is in an unsafe situation I'll take steps to address that so it is really about moving with the client at their pace and nudging them along the way. 

    The other issue that occurs is when you are being paid by a third party to provide an assessment on a client then the third party, or the client, are probably after a diagnosis - a label of some sort. This of course is not about treatment or therapy, it is diagnosis for the sake of diagnosis eg so and insurance company can make a decision etc. 
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    Beverley Aronstan Pro

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    I am a registered psychologist with many years of counselling experience in the field of relationships and fertility issues. In particular my focus is on ... View Profile
    • Bondi Junction, NSW 0415629096
    All 3 do similar work with regard to counselling. A psychologist has qualifications that enable him/her to conduct psychometric and psychological assessments and diagnosis.
    A psychologist has a 6 year degree and can have a medicare provider number.
    A psychologist can conduct research.
    A social worker does very valuable work with individuals and families and can counsel or advocate for these families in a direct manner.
    a counsellor helps people to make sense of and resolve their issues.
     
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    Grant Dempsey

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    With a passion to see people move forward and break free from the barriers holding them back, Grant is a highly experienced counsellor with over ... View Profile
    Lots of great explanations there, I'd point out a couple of general things;

    1. Not all Psychologists/Social Workers etc are counsellors. Registration in these fields does not ensure the person will be a good counsellor. Just like any other profession there are specialties eg in law there are specialties in tax, family, corporate, mining, copyright etc. You wouldn't want a tax lawyer representing you in family court. Likewise you wouldn't want a doctor who has spent 20 years in research operating on you. Psychologists will be registered but their focus will be . . . .  research  - sports -  ergonomics - recruitment -  pschometric assessments - mental health - disabilities - early childhood etc. Just because their registration iallows them to counsel doesn't mean they can or should. Of course there are Psychs and social workers who have done their degree, are registered AND have completed further specialist counsellor training. Punters should do their due dilligence and not rely on registration alone as a sign of counselling competency. 

    2. Counsellors have different skill sets and specialties
    Wether someone is a Psychologist/Social Worker or Counsellor they will have their own areas of expertise. Some are great with survivours of abuse, others with grief, family systems, parenting, children etc.   I'm always cautious of the counsellor who has 15 areas of expertise - that really means they are a generalist, which is ok for many clients but maybe not so good for clients with more complex issues. I've worked in a larger organisation and the advantage for the client is they could be matched with the appropriate counsellor. Now I am on my own I really only offer and attract certain clients - couples and men. I'll refer clients onto other counsellors if I think they would be better served with someone who does CBT or specialises in grief etc. 

    Happy counselling folks
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    Often enough, we do not know our own mind. In the process of dialogue with another person, we are able to clarify what we think ... View Profile
    Just a point of clarification:

    Most social workers do have basic counselling as part of their degree. However….

    Accredited mental health social workers have to belong to a professional body - AASW - and also have a Medicare rebate comparable to that rebatable for psychologists. This is in recognition that they have additional specialist training and experience in mental health  - incl counselling and other treatment such as CBT etc.

    Most social workers who are clinically trained have undergone counselling training as part of their degree, and most of the accredited mental health social workers would also have had post-grad training in counselling/assessment of some sort.

    Accredited mental health social workers often undertake further training in psychotherapy family therapy couple counselling ontop of their initial degree - sometimes equalling 6-7-8 years of total clinical training.

    There seems to be misconceptions among us professionals, as I read through these answers amongst professionals - so it must be hard for a consumer to make an informed choice.

    I would advise consumers to contact the person and ask about:
    Their membership of a professional body - they exist for counsellors (CAPA or PACFA) mental health accredited social workers (AASW), mental health nurses, psychologists (AHPRA), psychotherapists (ANZAP/NSWIPP)

    I wouldn't buy into the ‘which professional is best for me’ discussion because very few of us can answer that without pushingour own professional agenda. Suffice for this social work/psychotherapist  to say that psychologists are not the only go-to professional for mental health issues - there are a range of professionals you can chose from.

    For counselling or therapy - the initial training that someone has done may be less important than the fact that they are registered with a  professional body that requires them to update skills every 12 months as part of that registration,  that their initial training was rigorous and included evidence based treatments, that they take regular clinical supervision even if they have been practising for a long time, have looked into their own blind spots through therapy/other means, (but preferably their own therapy) and have had a varied work background before going into private practice - eg they haven't just done a two-year course and then started a private practice with no prior experience working with people with mental health issues.

    There's a rich varied field of practitioners out there in Australia - so its limiting to only think about the qualification someone may have done when they first started out.

    Medicare BTW rebates are also available for OTs, nurses as well as psychologists, mental health social workers,  and psychiatrists.

    Consumers ought to feel free to ask whatever they like of the practitioner and trust their own instincts when it comes to what seems a good fit.
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    Ash Rehn

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    Mental Health practitioner, Medicare Provider, Counsellor & Therapist specialising in 'sex addiction', pornography issues, gay counselling, online therapy. For more information: www.ForwardTherapy.com View Profile
    Excellent post Charlotte and I with what you have written here.

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    Dr Rosalina Yuen

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    I have found this thread very interesting and enlightening. The price of professionalism seems to be elitism and I speak from personal experience. 
    I have been a clinical social worker, a family therapist and mediator and am now a registered psychologist with a doctorate. It is inevitable that my approach is an integration of all these trainings which simply enriches any psychological framework. As a scientific piece of work, a psychological framework is dry and barren. The delivery requires heart and compassion to be effective. 
    What I mean is one can do evidence-based practice in a manualised fashion or with heart and compassion. The latter requires a broad understanding of the science and art of human behaviour. 
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    A psychologist has studied the science of human behaviour and personality, a social worker the social and environmental effects on human behavoiur and personality, a counsellor studies useful therapies of psychology and micro skills and how to use them effectively to help the client to reach a level of awareness to help themselves sort out their issues. A psychologist has the research and testing skills to make a diagnosis of mental health issues. Yes anyone can set up a counselling business with no qualification and call themselves a counsellor. Counsellors can also be highly qualified and done their time studying and have the ability to be registered and supervised and undertake professional development. Most  counsellors are more interested in helping the client rather than diagnosis and that is why they may not study psychology.
    It is sad to see most psychologists have still got an elitist view of themselves, no wonder they lose so many clients to counsellors who actually listen to them.
    I think there should be a clear definition by the government of what all these therapists are.
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