Part 2 of 2: What is the difference between a Counsellor, Social Worker, Psychologist, and a Psychiatrist?

In Part I, we distinguished Psychiatry – the medical model of the helping professions. In Part II, we will attempt to differentiate Psychologists, Social Workers, and Counsellors.

First, to be fully accurate, the research shows no difference in outcome for any of the disciplines or the model, philosophy or approach used by the practitioner. In other words, the Psychologist may be held in higher regard than a Social Worker or Counsellors but there is no research to support their greater effectiveness.

Admittedly, Psychologists are arguably held to a higher standard of care than the titles Social Worker and Counsellors. Using the title of Psychologist requires considerably more training and arduous comprehensive exams, plus an oral examination. The Social Work title can be used with a two-year diploma, an undergraduate or graduate degree. The title “Counsellor” is generic. As such, anyone can use the title with no training at all. A Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) status does require a minimum of a Masters Degree and the Association does have the right to certify, advise and discipline its members. So, a CCC may well have more training than a Registered Social Worker (RSW).

As with most disciplines, there are different types of Social Workers and Psychologists. A community Social Worker or an Administrative Social Worker would have no counselling training. Similarly, an Assessment Psychologist may have little counselling training.

So, indeed, it is buyer beware. First, ensure the person you are seeing is registered with any of these three bodies: Saskatchewan College of Psychologists, Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers or the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. If not, you may be advised to continue looking for an accredited therapist. Second, check both the level of degree and the type of experience the therapist has before booking that initial appointment. A minimum of a Master’s Degree is recommended. Now, the question of the actual difference between the two disciplines is that Social Workers (like the name implies) have a broad social vision of the client. The Social Worker considers both the person and the environment to understand and treat the client. They cast a wider net to include family, family of origin, work, community and all variables in a person’s suffering. It is not that the Psychologist or Certified Counsellor neglects to consider these areas but it would be a matter of weighting. They may think that these external influences are factors but the weight of the responsibility rests largely/exclusively with the client. The Social Worker would regard the 5 factors worth 20% each in the foundations and functioning of the individual.

There can be considerable tension between the disciplines. The Psychiatrist who argues in the value of Pharmacology, the Psychologist who argues the value of individual responsibility, the Social Worker who argues the impact of an entire system, and the Certified Counsellor who may be more general.

The truth is, all four are correct and valuable depending on the case itself.