The difference between psychology and counselling services

Man receiving counselling by woman

When seeking help for mental health concerns, you may come across the terms ‘psychology’ and ‘counselling’ services. While both offer therapeutic support, there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the differences and similarities between Psychology and Counselling Services and how they can help you.

Recent statistics by the Australian Bureau of Statistics recognise that mental health is a key component of overall health and wellbeing yet in Australia their research has shown:

  • 42.9% of people aged 16–85 years had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life.
  • 21.5% of people had a 12-month mental disorder, with Anxiety being the most common group (17.2% of people aged 16–85 years).
  • 38.8% of people aged 16–24 years had a 12-month mental disorder.

Navigating the mental health landscape can be overwhelming. When searching for help, you will likely come across both ‘psychology’ and ‘counselling’ – but which allied health professional suits you best?  For reference ‘Allied health professional’ is a broad term that refers to trained professionals with university qualifications. They use evidence-based practices that can be used to provide specialised support to clients.

Counsellors and Psychologists are both professions recognised by Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPRA). Both counsellors and psychologists are required to be registered by a governing body. Membership of a governing body ensures that the individual has met the study requirements and is aware of ethical practice standards.

Both counsellors and psychologists help individuals develop strategies to relieve and resolve psychological, social and environmental problems leading to improvement in wellbeing and mental health.  Both also recognise the broader implications of an individual having a mental illness and the implications on friends, family, work and education.  This results in services being offered in many settings, such as schools and in the workplace (Employment Assistance Programs), as well as individual, relationship and group services.  Services can be offered face-to-face and via telehealth.

Differences Between Psychology and Counselling Services

Psychology and counselling both help people improve their Mental Health, but they have some important differences.

Focus and Approach

Psychologists tend to focus on understanding and explaining human behavior through scientific research and methods. They may also diagnose and treat Mental Health Disorders using evidence-based techniques.

Counsellors, on the other hand, tend to focus on providing support and guidance to individuals in need.

Scope of Practice

Psychologists have a broader scope of practice than counsellors. They can diagnose and treat mental health disorders, conduct research, and teach at the university level. Counsellors, on the other hand, provide therapeutic services and cannot diagnose mental health disorders.

Which One is Right for You?

The type of mental health professional you choose will depend on your specific needs and preferences. If you are struggling with a diagnosed mental health disorder, a psychologist may be the best option for you. They can provide evidence-based treatment and help you manage your symptoms.

If you need help with personal problems, for instance relationships, coping with loss, overcoming addiction or managing stress, a counsellor might be a good choice.

They can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to work through your concerns and develop coping strategies.

How do I Know Who to See?

For many of the most common presenting problems, either a counsellor or a psychologist will be able to help you. The most important thing will be how comfortable you feel with the practitioner. At times there may be thoughts, feelings or life events that you want to share that are upsetting or you have not shared with anyone before. It is important that you feel safe to share with the individual and setting you choose.

Most psychologists and counsellors will have areas of competence that would help you decide who you would see, rather than the specific profession. Even though both can help, one has a deeper level of competence in the issue than the other. To understand the different areas of competency keep exploring below.

Understanding Psychology Services

Psychology encompasses a wide range of topics, focus and approaches including cognitive processes, emotions, social interactions, and mental health. Psychologists use various methods, such as observation, intervention, and psychometrics to understand and explain human behaviour.

Types of Psychologists

There are many different types of psychology each with its own focus and specialties. Some common types of psychologists include:

Clinical neuropsychology & psychologists: This branch of psychology focuses on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders.

Counselling psychologists: Similar to clinical psychology, counselling psychology also focuses on helping individuals with mental health concerns through a multitude of different talk therapies.

Educational & Developmental psychologists: This branch of psychology studies how individuals develop and change throughout their lifespan and in educational settings.

Social psychologists: Social psychology focuses on how individuals interact with others and how social influences impact behaviour.

Organisational psychologists: This type of psychology focuses on corporate enterprise and helping organisations understand and implement healthy mental health practices.

Forensic psychologists: Forensic psychology applies psychological principles to legal issues, such as criminal investigations and court cases.

Sports & Exercise psychologists: This type of psychology works within a sports and fitness context often with sporting teams to make sure they are staying mentally well while performing under high levels of pressure and strain associated with sport.

Education and Training Requirements to Become a Psychologist

Psychologists must register with the Psychology board of Australia (PBA) regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) to be able to use the term ’psychologist’. There are different pathways to achieve this that have developed and changed over time. To become a registered psychologist today someone would have to study a minimum of five years of higher education as well as at least a one year internship; however, some registered psychologists will have less qualifications to this depending on when they became registered. For someone to stay registered with the PBA and AHPRA they need to continue to meet their yearly requirements which includes ongoing professional development and clinical supervision.

Understanding Counselling Services

Counsellors help individuals, groups and families of all ages enhance their mental health and well-being through different evidenced based therapeutic services and often take a person-centred approach to services. Counselling can be conducted by multiple Allied Health Professionals including psychologists and counsellors; however, counsellors train more specifically in particular areas.

Types of Counselling Services

There are many different types of counselling services each with its own approach and scope of practice. Some common types of counsellors include:

Mental Health Counsellors: This type of counsellor helps people with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Relationship Counsellors: This type of counsellor focuses on improving relationships and communication within couples and other romantic relationship types.

Family Counsellors: This type of counsellor focuses on improving relationships and communication within family units.

Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Counsellors: This type of counsellor helps individuals struggling with addiction to overcome their substance use.

School & Career Counsellor: School & Career counsellors help individuals explore their interests, skills, and values to make informed career decisions and/or engage more meaningfully in education.

Grief and Loss Counsellors: Grief counselling provides support and guidance to individuals who have experienced a loss.

Trauma Counsellors: This type of counsellor helps those who may have experienced a traumatic situation, for example, being assaulted or witnessing or being involved in an accident, to process their trauma.

Education and Training Requirements to Become a Counsellor

As counsellor is currently an unprotected term in Australia this means that anyone can label themselves with this title. It is recommended when speaking with a counsellor that you speak to a registered counsellor which is protected. For someone to use the term ‘registered counsellor’ they must be registered with either the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA). To be registered, a counsellor is required to have a Bachelor degree or higher. To stay registered they must engage in ongoing professional development and clinical supervision.


In summary, psychology and counselling services are both valuable resources for improving mental health and well-being.

Psychologists and counsellors study human behaviour and help individuals develop strategies to relieve and resolve psychological, social and environmental problems leading to improvement in wellbeing and mental health.  Some psychologists will provide diagnosis and treatment options as well.

Both psychologists and counsellors play important roles in helping individuals achieve their mental health goals. If you would like to enquire about BUSY Health counselling or psychology services, contact us today!


Q: What’s the main difference between psychology vs counselling services?

            A: Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour. Counselling services are the intervention that can provide support and guidance through various therapeutic approaches to deal with personal issues, relationship problems and anything that is impacting your overall wellbeing.

Q: Which one should I choose, a psychologist or a counsellor?

            A: It depends on your needs! The most important thing will be how comfortable you feel with the practitioner. At times there may be thoughts, feelings or life events that you want to share that are upsetting or you have not shared with anyone before. It is important that you feel safe to share with the individual and setting you choose.

Q: What types of psychology are there?

            A: Psychology boasts diverse specialties! Some popular ones include clinical psychology for mental health disorders, counselling psychology for personal concerns, developmental psychology for lifespan changes, and social psychology for how we interact with others.

Q: What Types of Counselling Services are available?

            A: There are many options! Common examples include mental health counselling for various struggles, relationship and family counselling for relationship issues, alcohol and drug counselling for overcoming addiction, career counselling for job exploration, and grief & loss counselling for coping with loss.

Q: How do I find a psychologist or counsellor near me?

            A: Many online directories can help! Look for platforms like AHPRA’s Find a Psychologist function for registered psychologists or ACA’s Find a Counsellor function for registered counsellors

Q: How much do psychology and counselling services cost?

            A: This depends on your situation. There may be funding available to you through different means, and it is worth talking to your chosen psychologist or counsellor about this. Some common funding pathways include NDIS, Medicare, Private Health Insurance, WorkCover, DVA, Victims of Crime funding, etc. Some mental health practitioners may bulk bill but this will depend on the individual or company you go with. .

If the above doesn’t apply to you, psychologists and counsellors have varying fees per session. BUSY Health is part of The BUSY Group, a not-for-profit organisation, and can offer clients highly competitive rates for initial assessment or regular appointments with either a psychologist or a counsellor.

Q: Is seeking mental health support a sign of weakness?

            A: Absolutely not! It takes strength and courage to recognise you need support. Taking action to improve your well-being is a powerful sign to others to speak up and get help as well.

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