What is the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist and a counsellor?
There seems to be so many terms used to describe those who provide care, help or advice to those dealing with issues such as depression, grief, anxiety, stress, and others. What is the difference? You could be speaking to a medical doctor or you could be speaking to someone who has no training at all, but has a sympathetic ear.
The difference between these terms may give some indication of an individuals training and approach in the case of a psychiatrist or psychologist.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has been trained in general medicine and has chosen to specialize in psychiatry. A psychiatrist often sees clients as individuals and is able to prescribe drugs as well as provide counselling but may not be trained in working with family dynamics or relationship issues. Psychiatrists are licensed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
A psychologist is not a medical doctor and is not able to prescribe drugs however has completed a Doctorate degree in psychology. Psychologists are licensed by the province and may or may not have specialized in family, child or adolescent psychology. Psychologists are often trained to do assessments for learning disabilities and provide reports for workplaces and educational institutions. Psychologists are licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
A psychotherapist is not a medical doctor and does not prescribe drugs however has a Masters degree in an appropriate field as well a number of specific masters level courses in individual, couple and family therapy. Psychotherapist are trained to have therapeutic conversations to help those in need, come to cope or make changes in their life and improve their lives. Most psychotherapists are licensed by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario however this is a new regulatory college in Ontario and, for the time being, it is not mandatory for everyone providing psychotherapy to be part of a regulatory college. This is expected to change in the near future.
A regulatory college protects the public from unethical or inappropriate treatments – make sure that your psychotherapist is part of an appropriate regulatory college.
A counsellor is a general term that includes anyone who may advise, consult, guide or mentor. It could refer to someone with significant training, but may not.
Should I consider Psychotherapy?
The decision to seek psychotherapy is one that few people undertake lightly. Consider the following:
Today's world is much more complicated and demanding than in years past, and thus the call for trained counsellors has been steadily increasing. Incidents of issues such as depression have increased more than 30 times since the 1950's. Psychotherapy can offer a safe place to examine and discuss those issues, which keep us from experiencing the fullness of life.
How often will I need to attend?
You attend only for as long as you feel it is worthwhile to continue. Your counsellor works for you and you can choose to discontinue counselling at anytime.
The pace at which change occurs for a client depends on the issues being discussed and the rate at which the client feels comfortable in moving through those issues.
Some clients can see significant change in as little as 2 or 3 sessions. Others will take 8 to 10 sessions and others may want to continue even further but the choice is totally up to you.
What role does religious faith play in psychotherapy?
Any good counsellor will respect the views and beliefs of their clients as long as they do not promote harm. As a Christian, my faith influences my worldview. Good therapy is not "value free" but it should be non-judgmental. Religion, therefore, although it is reflected in my values, may have no role during counselling for some clients and may have a significant role for others if they so choose. Every counsellor brings his or her own value system into each counselling session. It is important for you to understand what that value system is regardless of the counsellor's religious affiliation so you might better understand where your counsellor is coming from.
How confidential is my psychotherapy?
In short, confidentiality in psychotherapy is paramount. Northern Ontario can sometimes seem like a small place with many people knowing each other after years of social contact. You can be assured that your confidentiality will be protected.
You are entitled to know and question everything that is in your file and none of that information will be released without your written consent. There are some exceptions to this however if a child's welfare is in danger, if there is a safety issue (homicide, suicide) or in the event of a court order. The issue of confidentiality will be thoroughly explained in detail in your first session.