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“What’s the difference between a Counsellor and a Psychologist? Which do I need?”

Counselling and psychology are related, with a focus on providing guidance and support to improve an individual’s mental health, but there are differences between the two in terms of areas of focus, educational background and specialisation. 

Very few people know the difference between a Counsellor and a Psychologist, so when it comes to needing the help of a mental health specialist, which do you choose?

Our guide below explains the difference:

Let’s begin by defining these terms:


A counsellor is a professional who provides mental health support to individuals facing emotional or psychological challenges to help them navigate their problems and develop long-lasting, helpful and healthy coping strategies. They employ therapeutic techniques to help clients explore their feelings and make positive life changes. Counselling often focuses on short-term solutions and practical strategies to address specific issues. A counsellor usually has a Master’s degree, which can be acquired on part-time basis, allowing students to complete specified number of supervised hours in the field. Passing a national professional exam makes them a Licensed Professional Counsellor (LPC). A counsellor usually works in schools or career settings. 


A psychologist on the other hand engages in the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes, undergoing specialised training courses to acquire advanced knowledge in psychological theories and research methods. Psychologists use a variety of tools and therapeutic approaches to understand and treat a wide range of emotional and mental health issues. Psychologists have a doctorate degree and adhere to the standards set by the Professional Standards Authority for social and health care workers. Psychologists tend to treat individuals with serious mental health conditions and are likely to pursue research and training. Their training involves in-depth study, research and clinical experiences, they may work in therapy, research or academia. 

What they do


  • A counsellor works with people who are experiencing emotional distress and need a safe space to explore this and find ways of reducing the distress.
  • It is a reflective form of therapy that helps clients to find their own answers by encouraging them to look at aspects of their life that are contributing to their difficulties and identify changes that can be made.
  • They use a range of therapies to guide their work.
  • Counsellors work with individuals, couples and families.


  • A clinical psychologist has been trained to understand how the brain works and uses this information to understand individual experiences and how these have contributed to their difficulties.
  • Once they have worked with a client to understand individual experiences and how they are maintaining the mental health difficulties (what is known as the formulation), they can then identify the most appropriate form of therapy.
  • Clinical Psychologists use counselling skills to work with clients in therapy and work with a range of therapeutic approaches.
  • They can work with people who have more complex needs and entrenched patterns of thought.
  • They can use highly specialised assessments to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders and specific learning difficulties.
  • Clinical Psychologists can work with individuals, couples and families.

What they do not do


  • They do not work with clients with more severe mental health needs or those presenting with complex behaviours that have resulted from entrenched patterns of thinking.
  • They do not diagnose mental health problems.
  • Counsellors do not prescribe medication.


  • Clinical Psychologists do not prescribe medication.

Examples of issues and which professional type you would need:


“My husband and I are always arguing, the smallest issues turn into a massive deal and we never seem to have fun anymore.”

“My father died recently and I can’t seem to move on with my life. I feel like I should have seen him more/done more to help before he passed away.”

“I feel so overwhelmed at work, I have no time to clear my head and feel like I am on a treadmill and take no pleasure from it anymore.”


“Every relationship I have I end up ruining, it feels like I have a self destruct button and watch it happen, but I don’t know how to stop”

“My father died in a car crash, I was driving. I keep reliving the moment it happened and can’t get it out of my head, I should have been able to prevent the accident.”

“I feel so anxious all of the time, I worry that I am going to lose my job, I can’t concentrate and feel completely overwhelmed. I am having panic attacks every Sunday at the thought of Monday morning.”

If you do feel you need help, we always recommend a free telephone consultation initially with our Clinical Pathways Coordinator, who will determine the best route for you.