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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Wong

What is the difference between Clinical Psychologist or Counsellor and Psychiatrist Doctor?

Updated: Feb 21

A clinical psychologist or counselor and a psychiatrist are both mental health professionals, but they have different roles and approaches. 


A clinical psychologist or counselor (also known as psychotherapist in Ontario) typically provides therapy and counseling to help individuals cope with emotional, behavioral, and relationship challenges. They offer talk therapy and skills-building techniques to support personal growth and well-being. A Counsellor typically requires a Master’s Degree. It means 4 years of bachelor degree, then 2-3 years of master’s degree (total 6-7 years of schooling). A Psychologist in BC or Ontario typically requires a PHD Degree (it reuiqres a master’s degree in some provinces such as Alberta), and could make official diagnosis (but cannot prescribe medications). It means 4 years of bachelor degree, then 2-3 years of master’s degree, then 3 years of PHD degree (total 9-10 years of schooling).


On the other hand, a Medical Doctor (GP General Practitioner or Walk in clinic DR) can diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe medication to treat psychiatric conditions. It means 4 years of bachelor degree, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of residency in a hospital (total 13 years of schooling). A psychiatrist is a sub-specialty Medical Doctor who has taken further training (extra years) to specialize in mental health, such as additional years in both medical school and residency training. 


While both professionals are part of the mental health team to help with mental health concerns, a clinical counselor typically focuses on therapy and counseling, while a psychiatrist typically offer diagnosis, treatment planning and medication management in addition to therapy. 


A “very general” distinction of counsellor vs DR would be similar to physiotherapist vs DR.


For more severe and complex mental health concerns, it’s important to always check in with your Family Doctor or General Practitioner GP (and getting a referral to see a Psychiatrist if applicable), on top of seeing your clinical psychologist or counsellor.


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