In December, 2018, Bill 30, Mental Health Protection Act was passed. It is important to note that there are now protected titles. In other words, only those professionals registered with the new College of Counselling Therapy can use these titles, namely:
Child and youth care counsellor
The professional titles “Psychotherapist” and “Counseling Therapist” are now for the exclusive use of registered professionals who have a scope of practice in counselling, education, and research. This protects you, as a member of the public being served by these professionals. You are protected because you know that the professional you choose using one of these titles is a registered health professional who meets minimum education and skill level standards, and who has at least a Master’s degree in psychology, counselling, psychotherapy, or clinical social work. How can you tell if the professional is registered? The easiest way to find out if the professional is registered is to ask them what is their registration number, and with what regulatory body? Since the College of Counselling Therapy is brand new, in the interim, psychologists may continue to be registered through the College of Alberta Psychologists.
A registered psychologist’s education typically includes 10 or 11 years of post-secondary education.
- has high marks in high school,
- a four year or a five year honors related University bachelor degree,
- 2-year course work and at least a research project for a related master’s degree
- 2-year course work and a Dissertation for a related Ph.D.
- one year of internship
- about one year of study to pass the Examinationfor Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) in order to become a Registered Psychologist in North America
Being a registered professional and using a protected title of “Counselling therapist” or “Psychotherapist” ensures that you are also protected by knowing the person who is helping you is not just a counsellor. Counsellor is a generic term and there are no minimum standards, and no regulatory body.
What is a Counsellor?
Webster’s dictionary defines a counselor (note that it’s spelled counsellor with 2 “ll’s” if you are Canadian) as “one who gives counsel, adviser.” Counsel is defined as “an exchange of opinions and ideas in order to reach a decision; advice or guidance especially as solicited from a knowledgeable or experienced person. This definition fits the practise of us psychologists calling ourselves equally either counsellors or psychotherapists. As Counsellors we have many years of university education and we have counselling experience for one additional year after graduation under supervision of a senior, experienced, Registered Psychologist. 0
Where the difference lies is in the application of the definition of having an exchange of opinions, and ideas using advice or guidance from a knowledgeable or experienced person. Psychologists do that and more. We have university training, and we must pass a standardized North America wide registration exam, much like medical doctors, lawyers, and accountants are required to do. This requirement means that the general public knows that people with a registration number have met the minimum standards of knowledge and skills in a profession. There are counsellors in many lines of professional work such as lawyers counsel about legal matters, accountants and financial specialists counsel about financial matters, teachers about teaching matters, dietitians counsel about diets and food choices. In other words these professions use their professional knowledge to counsel about their area of specialization.
The important point is that people can call themselves a counsellor because there is no minimum standard attached to the single word of Counsellor. The application of the term counselling is broad and unregulated. A person with a weekend course in something can advertise as a counsellor. They can then counsel you about the contents of that course . It is truly “buyer beware.”
What is a Psychiatrist
Webster’s defines psychiatry as “the brand of medicine concerned with the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness.” The person doing this work is a psychiatrist.
A psychiatrist’s education is typically:
- first trained as a medical doctor
- specialized training in mental illnesses, does rotation(s) on a psychiatric hospital ward(s), specialized education in what pharmaceuticals to prescribe for mental illnesses
- Some psychiatrists take additional course(s) in counselling psychology either as part of their degree, or after graduating.
Another main difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that once the psychiatrists graduate, they can write prescriptions for mental illnesses such as anti depressants, and anti anxiety drugs. Psychologists are not trained, and therefore not legally allowed to write prescriptions.