Exploring the Differences Between Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Psychiatrists

Understanding the differences between counsellors, psychologists, Social Workers and psychiatrists is essential when seeking mental health support. Each profession differs in terms of education and the services they provide.


Counsellors typically hold a master’s degree and provide psychotherapy to address mental health concerns using evidence-based approaches. However, they cannot prescribe medication.

Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC): A widely recognized counselling credential in British Columbia, RCCs possess counselling-related Master’s degrees and meet other clinical standards. They are associated with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors.

Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC): A nationwide designation for counsellors from diverse educational backgrounds in counselling, provided they meet specific professional standards. This voluntary professional organization sets additional requirements for counsellors.

Registered Professional Counsellor (RPC): The RPC’s affiliated organization considers this credential to be competency-based, defined as “a mix of verified education and validated experience” that meets established criteria. Some RPCs are known as master practitioners of counselling—a term distinct from a Master’s degree, representing a separate class of membership.

A Registered Therapeutic Counsellor (RTC): The RTC is a mental health professional with a designation offered by the Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists of Canada (ACCT). RTCs typically have completed specialized training in counselling and psychotherapy, equipping them with the skills to address a wide range of mental health issues. Registered Therapeutic Counsellors (RTCs) are not necessarily required to have a master’s degree.


Registered Psychologist (R.Psych): Psychologists generally hold a doctoral degree and can provide assessments and diagnose mental disorders, in addition to offering psychotherapy. Like counsellors, they cannot prescribe medications.

Social Workers:

Registered Social Worker (RSW): This designation is granted to social workers holding Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degrees in social work, provided they also satisfy additional professional standards. All RSWs are members of the BC College of Social Workers. Registered Social Workers provide a range of services to individuals, families, groups, and communities. Their primary goal is to enhance the well-being of their clients and help them address various challenges they may face in life. RSWs work in various settings, such as government agencies, non-profit organizations, hospitals, schools, and private practices.


Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are medical doctors who can assess, diagnose, and prescribe medication for mental health issues. While many psychiatrists focus on medication-based treatment, some also employ psychotherapy.

A Reminder When Mental Health Support:

When searching for a mental health professional, consider your intentions for seeking treatment, as this will guide your decision-making process. For example, think about whether you need a formal diagnosis, medication, or ongoing therapeutic counselling. Always inquire about a professional’s credentials and qualifications, and remember that you may consult multiple mental health specialists simultaneously if necessary. Lastly, take the time to find a practitioner who best suits your needs and preferences.

Please note that some people might claim to be “counsellors” or “therapists” without having the necessary training in assessing or treating mental health challenges. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose a professional registered with a regulatory body. Registration ensures that they meet specific educational and training requirements and adhere to professional standards.

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