The difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a counsellor is something that a lot of people don’t understand. Psychologists and Psychiatrists are what are known as restricted terms. That is, it is an offence to describe yourself as a member of either of those professions unless you possess the appropriate qualifications and are registered with the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA). However, there are no restrictions on the use of the term Counsellor. So, you may have someone who is well qualified and experienced, but you may not. There are no guarantees of minimum education levels, competency, or experience.
Psychiatrists are medical practitioners in an area of specialty. In this case, psychiatry. That is, dealing with the mind and the brain – in a similar way to the fact that we have gastroenterologists and dermatologists. Their focus is based, understandably, on the medical model because they are doctors. So, they are able to determine the best medication and treatment regime in that regard, and they have access to a wider range of medication than might your GP. Of course, some of them may offer psychotherapy, but it depends largely on the style of the person you’re seeing.
Psychologists are trained in human behaviour – we’re human behaviour specialists. While psychiatrists go through six years of general medical training and, I believe, six years of specialist training and experience, psychologists train for six years as a minimum, followed by two years of further training and experience in order to gain a specialist endorsement (such as Clinical Psychologist, Organisational Psychologist, or Forensic Psychologist etc.). So, there is a lot of training and experience guaranteed for both professions.
If you’re wondering which profession might be best to help you, I’d recommend seeing your GP to start with. Your GP is the gateway to both psychiatrists and psychologists. If you receive a Care Plan from your GP, you will have access to Medicare rebates for up to 50 visits to a psychiatrist and for the first 10 appointments with a psychologist in each calendar year. Medicare rebates are not available for counsellors. Your GP may recommend that you see both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, since the best outcomes are often achieved through a combination of medication and psychotherapy.