Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist vs. Counsellor vs. Life Coach?

People in Australia are only allowed to call themselves Psychologists if they are registered with their state registration board and/or the Australian Psychology Society (APS). Typically, a psychologist uses the acronym MAPS after his or her name to indicate membership of the APS.

Psychiatrists have studied to be General Practitioners and then undertaken additional study in Psychiatry. This means that they can prescribe medication. Typically psychiatrists deal with more serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia, although clinical psychologists can also work with this population.

The qualifications of a counsellor or a psychotherapist or a life coach are not so defined. While good practitioners will be able to show you evidence of significant periods of study and membership of professional bodies, anyone may use the terms ‘counsellor’ or ‘life coach’ without having any formal qualifications or experience.

You have every right to check the qualifications and experience of any professional you have employed.

One way to do this is to check if their services attract rebates. The Federal Government has made a distinction between the various qualifications and the rebate it provides for clients referred by their medical practitioner under a GP Mental Health Care Plan and/or a psychiatrist or pediatrician. Private Health Funds will also only offer rebates to professionals they judge to have sufficient qualifications.