Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist or Counsellor?

What IS the difference?

Many people are confused between all the different titles of a Psychiatrist / Psychologist / Clinical Psychologist / Counsellor. While majority of them include talking therapies, there are vast differences between them in terms of qualifications, experience and the type of treatments they can provide. To ensure that you are seeking or receiving support from the most appropriate professional, it is always useful to check about their professional registration body and their clinical governance through The Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). These would be the basic registrations any health professional should have to ensure that they are appropriately qualified with their title.

Psychologist / Clinical Psychologist

Clinical Psychology is the branch of psychology that focuses on emotional distress, and treatments provided use evidence based therapies. The training for Clinical Psychologists is intensive in having completed a first degree, following by between 3-5 years of experience and then a further Doctorate course of 3 years. The Doctorate training incorporates training in 5-8 modalities including Psychotherapy, Behavioural Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Systemic Therapy, Community Psychology to name just a few.  Clinical Psychologists can therefore adapt their models to suit the client they are working with as not all models will suit everyone.  Clinical Psychologists trained through the Doctorate course will have been trained to work with children, adults, older adults and with people with learning disabilities. In their final year, psychologists can then train in specialist areas. This means that all psychologists who have been trained at Doctorate level will be able to work with people at all stages of life and through the lifespan but they may over time develop a specialist area. Dr Lakhani’s specialist area is Cancer and Palliative Care. Her preferred modality of work is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The title is protected by law and practitioners must be registered with the regulatory body the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in order to practise. They will also be registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS) trade body. There are different branches of Psychology, including Health Psychology, Forensic, Occupational and Sports as the most common. Often these fields of psychology overlap and a Psychologist will work in a number of areas.


Upturned hand on the floor with various spilt pills spread outBroadly speaking Psychiatrists are medically trained and can prescribe medicine. They would have undertaken typically at least 11 years of training including a degree in medicine plus a specialisation in psychiatry. Although they can offer talking therapies, their focus on treatment is more medicine based. They will be regulated by the General Medical Council like other medics. Your GP is a general practitioner and can therefore prescribe medication that they are generally aware of whereas a psychiatrist will be most knowledgeable to medication that is appropriate to specific emotional diagnosis.


Two people sat at a table in a cafe, one with a clipboard taking notesCounsellor is a generic title and therefore open to abuse. There is no legal regulation and someone who may have done a half to 2 day course on emotional wellbeing can use this title. There are however professional counsellors who will have undertaken a lengthy course with relevant experience and they will be registered to a specific professional body. Typically they would have undertaken a training course in a specific modality or in a particular area and will often refer patients to a Psychologist or Psychiatrist for more complex/serious emotional health concerns

You can read more about Dr Shradha Lakhani on the About page.

Man sat on the bare floor by the window with his knees up to chest