What’s the difference between psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and counselors?

To most people, psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors tend to conjure up the same imagery. That it is a mental-health professional talking to a client while the client is on the couch. While it is not completely wrong, it is not completely true either. Psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors are all trained to understand and help with emotional issues, but however, there remains a huge difference between the three professions.


Perhaps counselors are the most easily accessible among the mental health professionals as they are usually available in schools, universities and even through hotlines. In terms of education, usually professional counselors are required to have master's degree or higher in mental health counseling. Counselling may also have different types like family counselling, relationship counselling and career counselling. In totality, counselors are there to assist clients in helping them to discover and learn more efficient methods of self-discovery, stress management and emotional management. This is usually done via talk therapy, which in essence is the verbal service given to the client. Other types of therapies might also be used depending on the counselors’ preferences and also the clients’ needs.

With that said, a major point to be highlighted is that counselors do not usually administer any clinical diagnosis or medication. Registered counselors are trained in conducting career tests and a range of personality tests . In general terms, counselors usually are more suitable for individuals who are suffering from emotional distresses like life changes and relationship issues

Clinical Psychologists

In order to understand what psychologists are, one will need to understand what psychology is. Psychology is the scientific study of human mind, emotion and behavior. Hence, psychologists are professionals who studies and have the understanding on how humans think, feel and behave. To be a psychologist, one will need to obtain Bachelor’s degree in Psychology followed by a Master’s degree in Psychology. It should be borne in mind that psychology is a broad umbrella that covers many subfields like child psychology, clinical psychology, educational psychology and neuropsychology. Psychologists usually work in settings like schools, mental health clinics, hospitals and private settings.

When it comes to the topic of treating patients, it is usually in reference to clinical psychologists. One of the hallmark factors for clinical psychologists are that they are trained to administer and interpret clinical assessments and making diagnosis based on those clinical tests. Making diagnosis is important as it allows the clinical psychologist to develop effective treatment plans. Often, the treatment plans may involve psychotherapies as well. However, as psychologists are not licensed physicians, they are unable to administer medications. Patients who are in need of medication for their problems usually will be referred to psychiatrists by the clinical psychologists. This is why psychologists and psychiatrists work closely with each other in many settings. Clinical psychologists are likely to deal with individuals who may have psychopathological issues.


Psychiatry is a branch of medical studies that dwells in the treatment of mental illness and abnormal behaviors. Hence, psychiatrists are doctors that look into the biological, neurological and biochemical abnormalities to diagnose mental illnesses. With that said, those interested in becoming a psychiatrist would need to attend medical school and get a medical degree. In some places, psychiatrists are required to complete at least four additional years of specialized training in psychiatry. Akin to psychologists, psychiatrists may also opt to specialize further in different fields like sleep medicine, child psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. Patients that psychiatrists usually see tend to be those that suffering from severe and complex biological and psychological issues. For instance, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Since psychiatrists are licensed doctors, they are the only mental health professionals here that are eligible to prescribe medication. Due to this fact, psychiatrists tend to take a medication-first approach in their treatment. Psychiatrists are also trained in making diagnosis for patients. When a diagnosis is made, psychiatrists would then build am effective treatment plan for the patient. Often, the treatment plan would involve pharmacotherapy and medication management.


Written by: Ryan Wong Kar Wai (Aizen) (MPS Psychological Services Intern)

Supervisor: Mr. Liang Yaw Wen


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