Choosing a mental health professional can be tricky! Knowing the difference between a counsellor, a psychologist and a psychiatrist can help you find the best mental health professional to meet a young person’s needs.

This article briefly outlines the main facts you need to know about each. If you want a more detailed explanation Choosing a mental health professional is a great article to check out. 


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specialises in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They can prescribe medication if required. They receive A LOT of training and supervision. They must be accredited by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).


Psychologists study the way we think, feel, learn and behave. Just to add to the confusion, there are different types of psychologists that have different areas of expertise (e.g. clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, forensic psychologists just to name a few). Psychologists receive a lot of training but aren’t medical doctors and therefore cannot prescribe medication. With a referral from your GP you can get a Medicare rebate for up to 10 sessions per calendar year with a psychologist. Most services will also charge a gap but there are bulk billing services such as headspace where there will be no out-of-pocket expenses for the young person or their family. Like psychiatrists, psychologists need to be registered with AHPRA.


Counsellors work is a wide range of settings and offer a variety of services. They generally use talk-based therapy to support clients through tough times. The training they receive also varies widely as there is no mandated minimum qualification or training in Australia. Having said this, there are many highly qualified counsellors who have received extensive training so don’t be shy to ask! Medicare rebates are not available for counsellors. Cost to the young person or their family can vary widely from free (usually when accessed through a community organisation) up to $150 for a session. Counsellors can register with professional associations such as the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA).