Counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and coaches; what’s the difference?

In our journey towards personal growth and emotional well-being, it’s not uncommon to seek professional help. However, with a plethora of titles and specialties, it can be challenging to discern the differences between various professionals in the mental health and personal development fields. At East Vancouver Counselling, we often get asked if counselling is the right choice for clients who are in distress, and what the difference is in the different approaches to mental health treatment. In this blog post, we will explore the dissimilarities between counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and coaches, shedding light on their unique roles, qualifications, and approaches to helping individuals achieve their goals.


Counsellors are professionals who assist individuals in addressing and resolving personal, social, or psychological issues. They typically provide guidance and support to help clients cope with challenges, make decisions, and improve their overall well-being. The field of counselling is diverse and versatile. Counsellors employ therapeutic techniques such as talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), EMDR or other trauma resolution techniques, or solution-focused brief therapy, and a range of other treatment approaches, including complex, evidence-based treatment approaches for mental health concerns. Many counsellors are also coaches. Counsellors may have diverse educational backgrounds and certifications, including graduate degrees in psychology, social work, or counselling.

The terms “counsellor”, “therapist”, and “psychotherapist” are interchangeable in BC, but this is not the case in other provinces where those terms are now regulated. In BC, counselling is currently an unregulated profession (this is in progress), so anyone can call themselves a counsellor with minimal training or experience. For this reason, we suggest looking for a counsellor who is registered with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC), the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), or the BC College of Social Workers. You’ll find these professionals with the designations “RCC”, “CCC”, or “RSW”. Clinical counsellors with these designations have completed a high standard of graduate-level training, and work under a set code of ethics with some accountability structures. Registered counsellors are likely to have the training and experience to help with most mental health concerns.

Key Points:

  • Focus on emotional support, guidance, and problem-solving.
  • Employ various therapeutic techniques tailored to individual needs.
  • Educational background may vary, but often hold advanced degrees in psychology, social work, or counselling.
  • Look for a registered professional (RCC, CCC, or RSW).


Psychologists are professionals who specialize in understanding human behavior and mental processes. They typically hold advanced doctoral degrees in psychology and are trained to diagnose, assess, and treat mental health disorders. Psychologists use evidence-based interventions and therapeutic techniques to help clients navigate psychological challenges and improve their well-being. They often specialize in specific areas such as diagnosis and assessment, counseling, or educational psychology.  While many Psychologists do offer counselling services, not all do; many choose to focus on assessments and diagnosis or to supervise clinical counsellors. Registered psychologists in BC often have an extensive waiting list. Some benefits programs will only cover registered psychologists or registered social workers due to the fact that these two professions are regulated.

Key Points:

  • Specialize in understanding human behavior and mental processes.
  • Equipped to diagnose, assess, and treat complex mental health disorders.
  • Employ evidence-based interventions and therapeutic techniques.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They undergo extensive medical training, including general medicine and psychiatry, enabling them to diagnose, treat, and manage mental health conditions. Psychiatrists have the authority to prescribe medication and often integrate pharmacological interventions into their treatment plans. They may also provide psychotherapy alongside medication management, but their primary focus is on the biological aspects of mental health. In BC, you normally need to get a referral to a psychiatrist from your medical doctor, and there can be an extensive waiting list. Most hospitals do have attending psychiatrists who are equipped to handle mental health emergencies.

Key Points:

  • Medical doctors specializing in mental health.
  • Diagnose, treat, and manage complex mental health conditions.
  • Authorized to prescribe medication and often integrate pharmacological interventions.


Coaches are professionals who help individuals maximize their potential and achieve specific goals. They focus on personal and professional development, often utilizing a goal-oriented and action-driven approach. Coaches may specialize in various areas, including life coaching, executive coaching, or career coaching. While they may provide emotional support, their primary emphasis is on accountability, motivation, and skill-building to facilitate personal growth and achievement.  Unless they also have other training, specialization, and credentials, coaches would not be equipped work with complex mental health concerns, including trauma, mental health diagnoses, or other sensitive mental health conditions. Coaching is not a regulated profession and there is no minimum standard for education, registration, or experience for coaches to offer professional services.  Look for an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Certified Coach to be sure your coach has trained and is equipped to help with what you want to work on, or consider seeking out a counsellor who is also a coach or works from a solution-focussed, goal-oriented perspective.

Key Points:

  • Concentrate on personal and professional development.
  • Utilize goal-oriented and action-driven approaches.
  • Emphasize accountability, motivation, and skill-building.

In summary, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and coaches play distinct roles in the mental health and personal development fields. Counsellors offer guidance, support, and treatment for most mental health conditions, psychologists diagnose and treat mental health disorders, psychiatrists integrate medical expertise and prescribe medication, and coaches focus on personal growth and goal achievement. Each professional possesses unique qualifications and utilizes various techniques to help individuals enhance their well-being and achieve their desired outcomes. Understanding these differences can empower individuals to make informed decisions about the type of professional support that best aligns with their specific needs and goals.


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