What is the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health workers?
Clients often ask what is the difference between psychologists and other mental health workers. The primary difference is in the level of training and education that psychologists undertake. Psychologists typically complete at least ten years of undergraduate and graduate level studies and achieve a doctoral degree. Prior to working independently, psychologists are also required to complete internship and supervised practice, which means they train for at least 3,000 hours under the direct supervision of another psychologist. As well, in the province of Ontario, psychologists' competence is evaluated through stringent, professional, written examinations, as well as through oral examination by a panel of members of the College of Psychologists of Ontario. In short, psychologists, like psychiatrists and physicians, are required to demonstrate that they have the necessary training, knowledge, and skills required to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health. This is why, unlike other mental health workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians are permitted by law to diagnose mental health disorders.
Therefore, before you choose a psychotherapist, it is important that you ask questions about their levels of education and professional training. In contrast to the College of Psychologists of Ontario, the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario is just a few years old and the training and experience of psychotherapists grandfathered into the profession are very varied. Just like the medical profession, psychotherapists are required to operate within their scope of practice, and it is important that your psychotherapist has education and training, and received supervision, in the areas for which they provide treatment. For example, whereas psychotherapists with a background in Child and Youth work may be appropriate for childhood behavioural problems, couples therapists should have education, training, and supervised experience in couples therapy. Some questions you may wish to ask are:
What educational and professional training do you have? How many years of experience do you have working as a psychotherapist? How long have you been registered with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario? Do you have any specific training or experience working with my particular issue (e.g., trauma, divorce, childhood sexual abuse)? What is your approach to therapy for my specific problem? (Challenges & Choices: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).