What's the Difference Between a Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Psychiatrist, and Social Worker?
The decision to begin therapy is never an easy one. It can be overwhelming to scroll through the seemingly endless streams of information and feel altogether impossible to know what choice is right for you.
As an intake specialist receiving my Masters in Counselling Psychology, I have a clear understanding of the different roles therapists play. I have spoken to hundreds of clients, and they often have the same questions; what’s the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist and a psychologist? Can a therapist prescribe medication? How much does each mental health professional typically cost?
Everyone deserves to feel well, and having access to all the information you need is one way KMA can help you make the right decision for yourself.
A therapist, or counsellor, is an umbrella term that encompasses several mental health professionals. Generally, therapists provide mental health services through ‘talk therapy’ (here on out referred to as therapy). During therapy, they discuss and help resolve issues that may cause their client psychological distress. While there are similarities between the roles different mental health professionals play, their services also vary in several ways.
It’s important to note that not all mental health professionals provide therapy. Additionally, only some mental health professionals can diagnose psychological conditions or prescribe medication to treat these conditions.
In this article, we’ll outline the differences in services, education and costs between therapists.
What are the different types of mental health professionals?
A registered social worker (RSW) has received a bachelor’s in social work or master’s degree in social work. They are registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. RSWs can assess and treat clients through therapy but are unable to diagnose or prescribe medication.
The cost for social workers in Ontario range from $50 to $200 per session, and they are covered by some employer insurance plans. While social work services in Ontario are not usually covered by OHIP, RSWs who work in public sectors such as schools, hospitals, family service organizations, and community agencies often offer services at no charge. There is usually little to no wait time for social workers.
If an RSW is formally supervised by a psychologist; that is, if they regularly see, and receive advice and training from a psychologist, their services may be covered by employer insurance under psychological services. The cost for an RSW supervised by a psychologist in Ontario can range from $100-$250.
A registered psychotherapist in Ontario has a master’s degree in counselling psychology (or an equivalent focus). The College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario regulates all registered psychotherapists. Registered psychotherapists can assess and treat mental health issues through therapy but cannot administer diagnoses or prescribe medication.
The cost of psychotherapeutic services in Ontario ranges from $50 to $200 per session. They are not generally covered under OHIP and are covered under some employer insurance plans. While it may vary per practitioner, there is usually little to no wait time to see an RP.
If a registered psychotherapist is formally supervised by a psychologist; that is, if they regularly see, and receive advice and training from a psychologist, their services may be covered by employer insurance under psychological services. The cost for a registered psychotherapist supervised by a psychologist in Ontario can range from $100-$250.
A psychologist in Ontario has received a doctorate (Ph.D. or PsyD) and is registered with The College of Psychologists of Ontario. They can diagnose clients, usually through interviews and psychological tests. They can treat mental health issues through therapy, but they cannot prescribe medication.
Psychological services in Ontario range between $200 and $350. They are not covered by OHIP but are widely covered by employer healthcare plans. Wait times differ between practitioners; some psychologists in Ontario may take on new clients immediately, while others may have several months of wait time.
A psychiatrist in Ontario has a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) with a focus on psychotherapy and is regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Unlike social workers, psychotherapists, and psychologists, psychiatrists in Ontario don’t usually offer regular therapy sessions. Their focus is diagnosing and prescribing medication for mental illnesses. Talk therapists are commonly referred alongside psychiatrists.
Psychiatrists in Ontario are usually referred to patients through their family doctors and are covered by OHIP. Wait times for psychiatrists tend to be long, and it may take several months to book an appointment.
A family physician or general practitioner in Ontario has a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) and is regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. They can diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medications.
General practitioners in Ontario may be trained to provide therapy and they may use the title of ‘psychotherapist’. They are not, however, registered under the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and have no mandatory psychotherapy training. It is always important to remember that general practitioners have varying knowledge of mental health issues.
General practitioners in Ontario are covered under OHIP, but it may be difficult to find those that provide therapy services. As such, wait times to see those that do are generally lengthy, and it may take several months to book an appointment.
Now that you know what the different types of therapists are, check out our Therapies page to explore which style of talk therapy may be right for you!