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What's the Difference Between a Therapist, Counsellor, and Psychologist?

In this article, we will explain the differences between mental health professionals and explore what all of the letters, credentials, and titles mean. We aim to make it less confusing and hope to make this journey easier for you to navigate.

The titles counsellor, therapist, and psychotherapist actually are all the same and are used interchangeably. It comes down to the differences between a psychotherapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist. This is really what matters.

At AVERY THERAPY CENTRE, we are a team of master’s level psychotherapists (registered clinical counsellors). As psychotherapists, we are mental health professionals who use talk therapy to treat people with emotional and psychological challenges through a variety of therapeutic modalities that consider a person’s overall health and wellbeing. In British Columbia, the highest designation before a psychologist and psychiatrist is a registered clinical counsellor (RCC) and other designations listed below. This designation indicates that a psychotherapist has a minimum of a master's degree in counselling psychology. A psychologist has a doctoral degree and a psychiatrist has a medical degree.

It is important to know that anyone in BC can call themselves a psychotherapist, as such, it is important to look for someone who is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC), Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC), or Registered Social Worker (RSW). In general, for most people with emotional and psychological challenges, an RCC, CCC, or RSW can meet their needs. Below, we explain the differences and when you should see a psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

Mental health challenges are common in people going through various experiences in life. Psychological challenges may lead to extreme life complications. Urgent help becomes a priority for such people.

These professionals are trained in assessing their clients for mental health and emotional conditions. They investigate and collaborate with the client to understand what might have contributed to their challenges and work together to find healthy ways to overcome and navigate certain challenges. This article breaks down the differences between these different professions as we understand it can be confusing when first starting this journey.

Psychiatrist Vs Psychologist Vs Psychotherapist

A psychiatrist usually is trained in western medicine, has a higher understanding of biological processes, and prescribes medication to treat mental health conditions. Psychologists and psychotherapists are similar in the services they provide; however, psychologists usually have experience in research on a specific topic. They’ve spent more time in academia focusing on areas of interest to them. A psychotherapist on the other hand might have more experience in learning therapeutic skills and application. Psychologists and psychotherapists treat people with mental challenges and emotional challenges through talk therapy as well as somatic and behavioural interventions. They can serve different roles depending on their specialty and degree. They are flexible and work with families, couples, individuals, or groups.

Types of Psychotherapists

Differences Between Acronyms

RCC - Registered Clinical Counsellors are highly qualified counsellors who belong to the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC) and meet stringent, graduate-level education and training standards.This is a counselling designation common to BC. The minimum education requirement is a master’s degree in counselling psychology or similar. The practitioners should meet other required clinical standards as well. This is considered the “gold standard” for master’s level psychotherapists and counsellors.

CCC - Canadian Certified Counsellor. A designation for counsellors who practice throughout Canada with a background in counselling psychology. The minimum education requirement is a master’s degree in counselling psychology or similar. The practitioners should meet other required clinical standards as well.

RSW - Registered Social Worker. Only individuals who are registered with the British Columbia College of Social Workers or who are employed as social workers by one of the exempt employers under the Social Workers Regulation may call themselves social workers in British Columbia and only registrants of the College may use the abbreviation “RSW”.

RPC - Registered Professional Counsellor. This designation is competency-based which is defined as a combination of verified education and validated experience. Some RPCs are referred to as master practitioners of counselling; this term is not the same as a master’s degree, but is a separate class of membership. RPCs are not required to have a master’s degree and have usually completed a diploma program to receive this designation.

What are the Roles of Psychotherapists?

Through communicating and processing certain life events, psychotherapists support clients in living a healthier and fuller life. The results show improved emotions, behaviours, and relationships. The therapist’s role in session is to:

  • Engage in an open and non-judgemental exploration of your challenges

  • Support you in developing self-understanding and self-awareness

  • Process tough and overwhelming emotions, feelings, and sensations

  • Collaborate with you on strategies and goals to improve wellbeing

  • Support you in building and maintaining self-compassion and resilience

Why Should You See a Psychotherapist?

This mental health professional supports clients to explore tough and overwhelming life experiences. Some of these challenges include:

  • Effective ways to deal with major life changes

  • Manage anxiety, depression, and stress

  • Processing past or current trauma

  • Resolving relationship challenges

  • Develop confidence, compassion, and courage

  • Navigate workplace challenges

  • Overcome tough emotions and intrusive thoughts

  • Explore and resolve sexual challenges

What Psychiatrists Do and When to See One

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are more so responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental disorders with medication and limited talk therapy. They are reserved for more severe mental disorders like schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder I and II to name a few. You’ll need to first book an appointment with your family physician to describe your current challenges and request a referral to see a psychiatrist.

Often people who see a psychiatrist may also see a psychologist or psychotherapist so that they receive both medication and counselling therapy.

Final Take

We understand that it can be confusing and challenging to start this journey in looking for a therapist. Although most qualified mental health professionals may support you in your journey. Ultimately, the decision is up to you which route you want to take. Based on our experience, it might be helpful to consult with a few therapists who you resonate with after reading about their background and therapeutic approach. In BC, you’ll need a doctor’s referral to see a psychiatrist and usually there are long wait lists for both psychiatrists and psychologists. The most accessible and affordable option may be seeking the support from a psychotherapist (RCC, CCC, RSW). Most extended health plans cover the services provided by psychotherapists (RCC, CCC, RSW), you may confirm by contacting your insurance provider. If you have any questions about this process, please contact us at or book a complimentary consultation.

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