What is the difference between a Counsellor, Social Worker and a Psychologist?
At Living Well Counselling Services, we have three types of counselling professionals that you can see that are regulated by three different types of governing bodies. We have Certified Professional Counsellors, Registered Social Workers and Provisional and Registered Psychologists. All three of these education streams produce excellent helping professionals that are skilled in counselling techniques. And it’s natural to wonder – what’s the difference? And how do I know who I should choose to work with?
The first thing we want to address is whether one is better than the other. And it’s a good (and complicated!) question. Each has its’ benefits and drawbacks and what makes someone a better fit for you really depends on your needs. Since it can be confusing, we thought we would help you understand the process for each professional stream.
Let’s start with Counsellors. At this stage in Alberta, the term Counsellor is not a protected term whereas Social Worker and Psychologist are. Therefore anyone in Alberta could call themselves a Counsellor. That said, there is currently a team of Counsellors working to change this so that their title can also be protected and regulated. At Living Well we only hire Counsellors that are considered Certified or Professional Counsellors which means they have still chosen to proceed with registering with a governing body even though the province does not currently require it. This ensures there are set standards that clients can count on when they are looking for help. To become designated within a governing body, Counsellors must have the following: both a Bachelors and a Masters in Psychology and/or Counselling Psychology from an approved institution with all categories of required education satisfied, supervised internship hours with at least a year of direct client counselling experience and ongoing continuing education requirements met to keep their membership current. This means that they have completed approximately 6-7 years of education/training before they will work with you, and their training will continue every year. This is very helpful in keeping the standard for the profession high. Several members of our team (like our founder Jennifer Dawn Watts) having chosen to become Counsellors instead of Psychologists because the education is typically more specialized with a focus solely on Counselling. Whereas a Psychologist can do many things with their degree, such as research, becoming a professor or working in organizational development a Counsellor wants to focus on doing the work of Counselling so this is evident throughout their Masters degree.
Unfortunately not all benefits plans yet recognize Counsellors as approved treatment providers because of the issue with the protected term (in spite of similar levels of education). To help with this many Living Well Counsellors have chosen to offer sessions at reduced rates. Counsellors rates vary from $155-170 whereas Registered Social Workers and Psychologists range from $175-225. We encourage you to check with your benefits provider to see if a Counsellor is covered under your plan and if not, to call your provider to see if they will add the Counsellor you want to see to their list. There are many reasons someone may have a particular Counsellor in mind. For example, if clients want to see a Christian Counsellor or if clients have been referred to a specific Counsellor by a trusted family member or friend. We encourage you to look at the following profiles to see if one of our Counsellors might be a good fit for you:
The second stream of education that leads to professionals that are skilled in counselling is the field of Social Work. Social Workers are incredible people that have usually had a deep calling to help those who are suffering from early on in their lives. Their jobs vary from those willing to work as advocates in the foster system, juvenile detention centers, community development and counselling. At Living Well, Social Workers must have a Masters degree and have a great deal of experience counselling before they join our team. And, like Counsellors and Psychologists, they have to be registered with a governing body, follow a code of ethics and have excellent references. Almost all plans cover counselling with a Registered Social Worker but there are a few exceptions so we always encourage you to check with your provider before you get started.
So – why would a client choose to work with a Registered Social Worker at Living Well instead of a Counsellor or Psychologist? Usually it comes down to a specific need – for example Couples Counselling, Children’s Counselling or expertise with Depression. They may also have been referred to one of our Social Workers directly, or their availability may be best suited to one of our Social Workers that are currently accepting new clients.
To learn more about our Registered Social Workers, and the primary areas they specialize, we encourage you to visit the following profiles below:
The final field we want to discuss is that of Psychology itself. The criteria to become a Psychologist is the most stringent of all three streams, and Psychologists go through an incredibly invested process in order to receive their designation. Psychologists, like Counsellors and Social Workers, must possess a minimum of a Masters degree. They must also complete 1600 supervised hours and pass three exams. The EPPP, the LEAP and an oral exam. In particular the EPPP is known to be very difficult to pass. Therefore the breadth of knowledge they obtain is vast as they prepare for the exam. Psychologists have five years while they are in the Provisional process to complete all of their requirements. So that means a Registered Psychologist will have 6 years of education, plus an internship and/or residency, plus completing their 1600 hours at Living Well and their exams. The process is on average, 8-9 years. Because of they level of investment on their part, both education wise, financially and experientially, Psychologists are suggested by their governing body to charge a minimum of $200 per 50 minute session. At Living Well our Psychologists all choose to offer the full hour, as opposed to 50 minute sessions, and charge anywhere between $175 to $200. To learn more about a specific Psychologist, please click on the profile below.
Registered Provisional Psychologists
Kaitlyn Barnett (Online or Telephone counselling only)
If you are still unsure of whether a Counsellor, Social Worker or Psychologist is the right fit for you, we offer you a free 20 minute initial consultation. We encourage you to take advantage of this offer to see how you feel with your counselling professional and if their approach is right for you. Research has shown that the biggest predictor of positive outcomes in treatment is not the professional’s education or designation, but actually the fit the client feels with the person they choose to work with. Ultimately only you know what’s right for you.
Investing in yourself is one of the most important investments you can make. Unlike material items which come and go, you have to live with yourself all of the time. Therefore we want to assure you, whichever helping professional you choose to work with, all designations are well trained and skilled to help you work toward your goals.