Therapist vs Counsellor: What’s the Difference?

You probably think the terms “psychotherapist” and “counsellors” are the same — but they’re actually worlds apart! Here are the main differences between the two professions.

Updated 04 Nov 2020

Therapist vs Counsellor: What’s the Difference? - Feature-Image

If you’re planning to pursue a career in the field of psychology, you must have heard of the terms “psychotherapist” (often shortened to “therapist”) and “counsellor”.

But what’s the difference between the two? Are they one and the same? And will the same course lead you to both careers?

The truth is that while they both promote emotional and psychological support for people in need, these two fields operate differently. We shine the spotlight on the major differences between counsellor and psychotherapist so you can have a clearer picture.

#1. Psychotherapists work on chronic emotional issues while counsellors solve situational problems  

Psychotherapist vs Counsellor V02-Role

Psychotherapists are trained professionals, often in the field of clinical psychology, who promote resolving troublesome behaviours, compulsions and thoughts through various clinical treatment plans and approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychoanalytic psychotherapy. They generally work with people suffering from complex mental health conditions (e.g. depression, borderline personality disorders, eating disorders) and the treatments are usually long-term. Psychotherapy focuses on addressing the root and core issues for personal growth and lasting change.

Counsellors, on the other hand, are considered “advisors” who promote solving adversities by providing strategies for the patients to resolve on their own. Unlike psychotherapists, their patients are not limited to those who have been diagnosed medically. Additionally, the treatments are usually on a short-term basis. Counsellors work on various types of counselling that target different issues (grief and loss, financial, relationship, etc.) in an effort to help their patients better manage their life.

Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU)

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Dual-award degree – one from De Montfort University, UK, and one from APU

#2. Both psychotherapists and counsellors require a licence to practise from different governing bodies

Psychotherapist vs Counsellor V02-Licensing

In order to practice therapy and other services, clinical psychologists will need to register and obtain licensure by the Malaysian Allied Health Professions Council in accordance with the Allied Health Professions Act 2016. You’ll need to present qualifications that are recognised by the board and fulfil other prerequisite requirements set by the Council to prove your credibility to practise.

Similarly, counsellors will have to register with the Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia (Board of Counsellors of Malaysia) according to the Counselling Act 1998. Most importantly, counsellors must have a practising certificate in order to practise as a registered counsellor. Since there are different branches to counselling, you’ll also need to go undergo interviews to test your knowledge on theories in order to obtain your license to practise in your desired field.

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#3. Psychotherapists often require a postgraduate qualification while counsellors may only need a diploma

Psychotherapist vs Counsellor V02-Education level

To become a full-fledged psychotherapist in Malaysia, you’ll need to start with an undergraduate degree in psychology and subsequently a postgraduate education in clinical psychology. This allows you to delve deep into various psychology modules, learn behavioural assessments, understand theoretical approaches and conduct clinical research.

In contrast, it is not necessary for you to pursue a postgraduate education to be a counsellor as long as you have the right qualifications as determined by the Board of Counsellors of Malaysia. While most of the approved qualifications are indeed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, it is actually possible to register as a counsellor with a Diploma in Psychology (Counselling).

#4. Psychotherapists and counsellors often work in different places

Psychotherapist vs Counsellor V02-Workplace

Despite sharing similar working roles in promoting mental health, both psychotherapists and counsellors often work in vastly different settings.

Psychotherapists usually work in medical settings such as hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation facilities and mental health centres, as well as private practices where they conduct assessments and treat patients with complex mental and emotional health conditions. Those who are part of the healthcare team will collaborate with doctors and nurses to check on a patient’s overall wellness.

Meanwhile, counsellors often work in family services, NGOs and community centres, rehabilitation facilities, schools and universities and sometimes industrial workplaces. You can also find them working in private practice with specific specialities such as marriage and family counselling, financial counselling, educational counselling as well as career and guidance counselling.

Well, there you have it! Although both psychotherapist and counsellors are intricately related professions, they are ultimately different career paths. We hope that this breakdown has given you a clearer picture between the two so you can make better decisions on which to pursue. All the best!

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    Nina Fazil

    Nina Fazil

    A work in progress — has been for the past 24 years.