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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Psych! (& the difference between psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor & practitioner psychologist)

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

I am a psychologist...but to be fair, anyone could really call themselves a psychologist because "psychologist" is not a protected term. However, within the remit of integrity "psychologist" is arguably applicable to someone who is a (graduate) member of the British Psychological Society because in order to achieve that one needs to have done, at minimum, an Honours degree on a recognised psychology course. (Prior to graduation you can join as a student member).

You may notice that I have "chartered" as part of my status - again, this is recognition from the BPS of my field of study (in my case: wellbeing and emotional labour) along with further criterion:

- To be eligible for Chartered Membership you must have:

  • achieved at least a 2:2 on an undergraduate honours degree (recognised as meeting Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership) or have completed a society-accredited conversion qualification

Along with one of the following:

  • have undertaken society-accredited postgraduate qualifications and training

  • have appropriate postgraduate training and experience of teaching psychology

  • have completed psychology research to doctoral level

(The British Psychological Society)

...and you may also require nomination and references.

"Practitioner/Registered Psychologist"

However, while I teach and write (both academically and mainstream) I am not a "practitioner (sometimes known as "Registered" psychologist) psychologist". Which I realise can be a little confusing because I teach in practical terms.

A Practitioner/Registered Psychologist can be a member of the BPS, but is also always a member of the HCPC as a healthcare professional to use any of the following titles:

The HCPC "protects" the use of certain terms:

  • Clinical psychologist

  • Forensic psychologist

  • Counselling psychologist

  • Health psychologist

  • Educational psychologist

  • Occupational psychologist

  • Sport and exercise psychologist the umbrella terms of "Practitioner Psychologist" or "Registered Psychologist" which you can use if you are registered with the HCPC as a practitioner under one of the above fields.

So, while my academic study was in the area of organisational wellbeing, and I am also a qualified psychometrics practitioner for organisations, I would not call myself an "occupational psychologist". But someone who was and is a member of both the BPS and HCPC would call themselves:

Jane Doe, Chartered Psychologist and Occupational psychologist (note that you cannot use "Jane Doe Chartered Occupational Psychologist" as the BPS (chartership) and the HCPC (practitioner) are different regulatory bodies.)

So, is there any point in being a chartered member of the BPS if you are already HCPC registered?

If you have qualified and are registered under a protected title, then it's up to you if you wish to also join the BPS. However, for me - I am not a practitioner psychologist, I am an academic one, an area which the BPS recognises and regulates (teaching and research/writing), and chartership demonstrates my reaching the standards expected in this area.

OK - now what about counsellors?

Again, counsellor is not a protected title, BUT I would always recommend that if you are paying for therapy you check that your counsellor is registered with the BACP (which is like the HCPC for counsellors). This means that the person you are coming to - and often paying - for support has undergone training from a BACP regulated course.

...and coaches or consultants?

"Coach" is another unprotected term, BUT again, if you are seeking someone to support you with life or career changes, such coaches who have met the highest standards in their field have their own regulating and accrediting bodies. The two most common are the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the International Association of Coaching (IAC - also known as "certified coach"), but there are a couple of others here. (This is not to be confused with sports coaches or business coaches - business coaching being completely unregulated at the point of writing.)

Most recently the term "consultant" is one which the BPS and HCPC offered guidance to "use with caution", and it is now more commonly used when someone has a registered (HCPC) title eg: Consultant Educational Psychologist. Again this can be confusing because "consult" is a general word to describe "giving professional or expert advice".

Why do you use the word "regulation" so much?

Regulation means that standards are set...not just "anyone" can join the club, or in the case of regulation, the register. This is especially important when it comes to seeking advice because anyone can use an unprotected term such as "psychologist" or "counsellor" or "coach". Because I am a Chartered psychologist (CPsychol) or if a counsellor is a member of the BACP, or if a practitioner psychologist is HCPC regulated, and a coach is member of the ICF, it means that I/we have attained the standard of practice expected in the profession and are subject to the ethics and continuing standards of the "governing body."

Especially when it comes to working on my mental health - I'd want someone I could trust in terms of their skills.

Right, so what about psychiatrists?

Psychiatrists are almost a different "kettle of fish". A psychiatrist is a medical doctor - specialised in the mind - with the powers to both prescribe and administer medical treatment (eg. ECT Electroconvulsive Therapy). A psychologist is not able to prescribe, and only registered/practitioner psychologists diagnose.

And therapists?

For most therapists we return to the HCPC as the regulating body. These include Art, Drama, Music, and Occupational therapists amongst others. To qualify (and register) in these areas, you need to have completed an HCPC recognised course in the field. Confusion often arises however with the "Psychotherapist". The best definition of this comes from the NHS:

"A psychotherapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, who has had further specialist training in psychotherapy. Increasingly, there are a number of psychotherapists who do not have backgrounds in the above fields, but who have undertaken in-depth training in this area." (NHS website)

...and I should add that all of the above is only how the terms pertain to the UK vernacular and usage, NOT the US!!

In summary...

To me, I would approach the psych field as follows:

- A psychologist studies behaviour and mental/emotional processes as well as the interactions between people and others or their environment using that knowledge to help other understand and better cope in those areas.

- A Coach/Counsellor - has specialist training in working with you in the above areas. (They may also be a psychologist).

- A (HCPC regulated) Therapist and a Practitioner/Registered Psychologist has specific knowledge and training and can provide diagnosis and treatment.

- A Psychiatrist is a medically trained with a specialism in the mind, and can both prescribe and administer medical treatment

...and while to administer some psychometrics (eg. DISC, or the MBTI or the FIRO-B) requires further qualification, recruitment specialists and managers are also often trained in these areas!

All of the above may contribute to furthering of knowledge through academic and mainstream writing and educating, but time constraints - and personal preference - can mean that the academics and teachers do the research and the practitioners do the job.

Nonetheless, always check that your professional has the qualifications, accreditation or registration for the purposes that you need.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt

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