What's the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Counsellor or Psychotherapist?

Counselling and Psychotherapy are often used interchangeably these days. The difference comes down to the level and direction of training. Counsellors often initially undergo training and personal development for 3 years, with Psychotherapists training for 7 years. Both forms of training are often based on psychological theories.

Like Counsellors and Psychotherapist, Clinical Psychologist’s are trained in working with individuals with severe and/or enduring mental health difficulties. A Clinical Psychologist’s training comprises a good first degree (3 years), interim supervised clinical experience as an assistant psychologist (often over several years) whilst gaining sufficient experience to seek an interview for a place on a Clinical Psychology Doctorate (formerly MSc) course. These courses are highly competitive and will only consider applicants with 2:1 degrees or above. Clinical Psychology training then continues post clinical qualification as a requirement of professional registration and in respect of specialisation in particular areas. In summary, qualification as a Clinical Psychologist takes a minimum of 7 years but realistically to reach specialist level a minimum of 9 years. Effectively career long training and evaluation is expected as a requirement of professional registration and the right to use the legally protected title of Clinical Psychologist is contingent upon this.

It is possible to be a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist (and use these terms) without the need for any post graduate training although some may highly trained.  There are no legal restrictions around the title of “counsellor”, “psychotherapist” or “psychologist” so credentials should always be checked.

In practice Clinical Psychologists are trained as “scientist practitioners” and will therefore apply an analytical approach to initial assessment and formulation of a treatment plan based on a client’s presenting difficulties using scientific evidence based approaches.  They are trained in many psychological approaches to a high level and are therefore able to tailor treatment to individual needs. Clinical Psychologists are also trained in using and analysing psychometric assessments to identify areas which may need intervention (for example HADS – hospital anxiety and depression scale, WAIS Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – for assessing cognitive ability where there may be concerns relating to memory, etc.)

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