What is a psychologist?
Psychologists have several years of training, including post-graduate training. A psychology degree on its own does not qualify someone as a psychologist, however. Psychology training tends to be scientific and focuses on mental processes and behaviour. Rather than engaging in free-flowing conversations about change, psychologists will tend to use more manualised approaches like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This may mean that your experience is one of being taken through a series of exercises and being given homework to do
Psychologists are not always trained in how to have therapeutic conversations, as their training tends to be more focused on behaviour, diagnosis and assessment. Psychologists are also more likely to talk in terms of psychiatric diagnoses and labels and also do testing for particular conditions. If you are looking to work with a psychologist for therapeutic work, then do check that they have considerable training. Some psychologists are trained as counselling psychologists and have more training and experience in therapy.
What is a counsellor?
Counsellors also tend to be trained to the postgraduate level and are members of professional associations. This is not always the case though, so do check that the person you are considering meeting with is a member of a reputable professional body such as NZAC (New Zealand Association of Counsellors).
Counsellors are trained to have conversations with people that bring about change in the areas of life that are important to clients. Counselling tends to be shorter in duration than psychotherapy and may be more solution-oriented. Counsellors use many different approaches in their work, and their approach is very much informed by how they see people, problems, and the process of change. On one end of the spectrum, a counsellor may use a more manualised approach like CBT, and on the other end of the spectrum, they may use an approach that is closer to traditional psychotherapy. Within these two extremes, there are numerous approaches.
Some of the approaches drawn upon by counsellors are:
● Rogerian or Person-centred Counselling
● Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
● Solution-focused Brief Therapy
● Narrative Therapy
● Systems approaches
● Strength-based approaches
● Acceptance and Commitment therapy.
Whilst approaches like CBT that are particularly embraced by psychologists claim to be ‘evidence-based’ this is somewhat misleading. CBT has come to be known as a reputable approach because there has been significant research into it, not because it is actually more effective than other approaches. The Common Factors research, which is long-standing and reputable research into what works in therapy, has consistently found that it is the relationship between the therapist and client that is more important in bringing about change, and the approach used is less important. Finding someone who seems to be a good fit for you, someone you feel comfortable with and confident in, is probably a better indicator of who you should see rather than their professional label or the approach that they use, although it is still important to consider whether their approach appeals to you.
What is a therapist?
The term therapist is often used interchangeably with counsellor. However, what people usually mean when they refer to a therapist is a psychotherapist. A counsellor and a psychotherapist are both trained to provide you with a safe space to talk about your life and they are skilled in helping people to bring about change. However, counselling tends to be shorter term. Psychotherapists are often more interested in the past and tend to spend more time exploring the past in depth. Counsellors on the other hand are more interested in the present and helping you to bring about immediate change.
Kay is a full member of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC). NZAC is the registration body for the counselling profession in NZ. Kays holds a Master's degree. She is a trained family therapist and play therapist.