Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist or Counsellor?

What IS the difference?

Many people are confused about the different titles of a Psychiatrist / Psychologist / Clinical Psychologist / Counsellor. While the 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 helpful to check about their professional registration body and their clinical governance through The Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). These would be the essential registrations any health professional should have to ensure 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 completing a first degree, followed by 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, and 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 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 the doctorate level will be able to work with people at all stages of life and throughout their lifespan, but they may, over time, develop a specialist area. Dr Lakhani’s specialist area is Cancer and Palliative Care. Her preferred work modality is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The title is protected by law, and practitioners must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) regulatory body to practise. They will also be registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS) trade body. There are different branches of Psychology, including Health Psychology, Forensics, and Occupational and Sports, as the most common. Often, these fields of psychology overlap, and a Psychologist will work in several areas.


Upturned hand on the floor with various spilt pills spread outBroadly speaking, Psychiatrists are medically trained and can prescribe medicine. They typically undertake 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 about medication that is appropriate to specific emotional diagnosis.


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Counsellor 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 well-being 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.

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