Mental health professionals

We explain the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors.
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02.Counsellors and psychotherapists


Unlike psychiatrists and psychologists, counsellors have a wide and varied level of training. Unfortunately anyone can call themselves a counsellor, whether they’ve done a correspondence course that teaches the basics, a two-year diploma or the six years of training and supervision required for the Masters of Counselling Psychology – or no training whatsoever.


Membership of one of the professional associations for counsellors means the counsellor has undergone an accredited training program of at least two years, undergoes continuing professional development and meets agreed ethical and professional practice standards. 

The Australian Counselling Association (ACA) is a national peak association for counsellors and psychotherapists with more than 3000 members. 

The Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation of Australia (PACFA) is an umbrella organisation for 37 member organisations, and individual counsellors and psychotherapists join one of these organisations – they may advertise membership of either PACFA, the member organisation or both. Counselling psychologists may or may not be members of the Australian Psychological Society, PACFA or ACA, but they are registered with PsyBA.

If you’d like to see a counsellor who’s not a registered psychologist, look for a member of either ACA or a PACFA member organisation so you can be confident they have adequate training and ethical standards. 

Both peak bodies have searchable lists of members on their websites so you can find one that suits your specific needs and location. They’re also collaborating to provide a single master list of all counsellors and therapists in Australia.


As a ball park, counsellors charge between $60-$150 per session. Some charge more or less than this, or may charge according to a client’s financial circumstances. At present there are limited benefits for members insured with Medibank Private (extras cover), providing the counsellor is accredited with ACA or PACFA. 

The peak bodies are looking to extend private health coverage of counselling. Counsellors who are registered psychologists may charge more, but you may be eligible for Medicare or private health rebates.


Psychotherapy is any kind of psychological talking therapy that aims to restructure the personality or self. 

Many trained mental health professionals practice psychotherapy, including psychiatrists, psychologists, general practitioners, counsellors, art/music/drama therapists and social workers.

It’s also possible to train as a psychotherapist at postgraduate level without having a therapeutic background.

As with the term “counsellor”, anyone from a correspondence course enthusiast to a psychiatrist can call themselves a psychotherapist, so if they’re not a registered psychiatrist or psychologist, look for qualifications (such as a Master of Medicine in Psychotherapy for medical doctors) and/or membership of an appropriate professional association (ACA or PACFA-member organisation) to ensure they’ve undergone accredited training and meet ethical and work practice standards.

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