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The difference between psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical counsellors

Differentiating between psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors might be confusing for some people. In fact, it’s one of those common questions that even my friends ask me. Psychiatrists are doctors that have been through medical school as do general practitioners, but with a specialization in mental illness and pharmacology. Psychiatrists focus on the treatment of mental illness primarily through medications. For example, you may be referred by your general practitioner to a psychiatrist for further assessment if you’re reporting symptoms of depression. The psychiatrist may then prescribe antidepressants to alleviate your symptoms.

Psychologists do not have the ability to prescribe any medications. They often focus on diagnosing mental illness using the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 and the treatment of that illness. Finding a diagnosis can be a relief for some while others may feel labelled. Finding a diagnosis can be relief for some clients because it externalizes the symptoms to a mental illness rather than an innate flaw within themselves. It also gives some people hope that after recognizing what their diagnosis is that they can finally move on to appropriately treating the illness. However, in some cases, people who have been diagnosised with a mental illness can feel like they have been labelled, stuck with that illness and that cure is not possible.

See: Why it’s dangerous to label people by Adam Alter via Psychology Today

Clinical counsellors do not diagnose or prescribe medications. While part of their training involves the knowledge of how diagnosis works, they are not trained to provide any kind of formal diagnosis. Clinical counsellors focus on therapy and working with the clients closely on reaching some of their goals. A client oriented approach is often the main pillar for most clinical counsellor. Providing a working relationship based on trust, warmth and knowledge translation are all factors present in a counsellor-client relationship.

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