Psychologists study the mind and human behaviour in great details during six years of university training and supervised experience. They enter the profession with a high level of knowledge and skill, and many have additional postgraduate qualifications in areas of psychology such as mental illness and development. In most cases, a referral to a psychologist is not required unless a client is seeking to see a psychologist through a government-funded program. Psychologists cannot at present prescribe medication, but use non-medication treatments and approaches that scientific evidence shows are highly effective to assist their clients.
Psychology is a regulated profession in Australia, and any person calling themselves a psychologist or practising as a psychologist must be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA). Psychologists must take part in ongoing education and training to keep their skills and knowledge up to date to retain their registration. They must also follow a strict code of ethics, which protects consumers by covering issues such as conduct and confidentiality, and meet rigorous professional standards that are enforced by the PsyBA.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have studied six years of general medicine, followed by further study to specialise in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness. Psychiatrists typically work in medical settings such as hospitals, clinics and private practice and are interested in the mental and physical factors contributing to psychological disorders. They can prescribed medications, such as anti-depressants and some combine medication with other forms of therapy. Many work in cooperation with psychologists providing non-medication therapies.
Therapists and Counsellors
Counselling is a process of talking and working together through issues, emotions and behaviours to identify their causes and help individuals find better ways of coping. Therapy or Psychotherapy refers to the techniques, treatments and approaches used by some healthcare professionals. Some psychologists provide counselling, therapy or psychotherapy as part of the work that they do.
The use of the title counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist is not regulated in Australia, which means that there are no legal restrictions on using these titles and anyone can choose to use them regardless of their level of qualification and training. Individuals may represent themselves as a counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist without having the relevant education, skills or experience. They are not obliged to engage in ongoing education, or to follow particular codes of conduct.
The above information is based upon the ‘Frequently asked questions about psychology section of the website of the Australian Psychological Society. www.psychology.org.au/public/frequent-questions/ For more about the APS, please see ‘What is the APS, AHPRA and PsyBA?’