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Should I see a Psychiatrist or a Clinical Psychologist?

Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists have specific training in managing mental health issues.

There are certain clear demarcations in what each may do. Often it is best to start by seeing a friendly Psychiatrist and then they will determine and oversee which therapist is most appropriate in the circumstances.



A Psychiatrist is a Medical Practitioner (MBBS). That is, they have attained a certain standard of excellence to competitively enter Medical School. They then need to complete a six year Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery to become a Medical Doctor.


Once they have become a Doctor, they must work as an Intern and then as a Resident in the public hospital system. During this time they must complete compulsory rotations in medicine and surgery. Most Psychiatrists spend many years working in the hospital system before deciding to embark on a career in Psychiatry. If accepted into the specialist training program, they then work and train as a Psychiatric Registrar with an emphasis on the Medical Model and evidence-based treatments.


At the end of the specialist training program the Registrars must sit highly competitive and high risk examinations, with pass rates well below 50%, to attain Fellowship of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (FRANZCP). The average duration of Registrarship is roughly eight years, which traditionally is longer than every other specialty including surgery. Once Fellowship is attained, most Consultant Psychiatrists will work in the public system for a number of years before venturing into Private Practice.


Psychiatrists are doctors and can thus prescribe a wide range of medications, as a GP can, but in practice, they exclusively concentrate on Psychiatric medications. They may also do medical tests and investigations if appropriate. Many will have areas of subspecialty expertise or interests. Most do not bite.

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Clinical Psychologist

Clinical Psychologists have a three year university degree in Psychology. All need to attain the highest rankings in their Psychology degree in order to be selected for Clinical Psychology post-graduate qualification. Those Psychologists who do not meet this high standard cannot progress to train as a Clinical Psychologist. The average duration of the qualification is an extra four years.


Some also have further postgraduate qualifications to specialise in various aspects of psychology including mental health, and family or couples therapy. Some attain a PHD in Psychology too.


Clinical Psychologists cannot prescribe medication. Their therapies are based on changing the patient’s behaviour and emotional responses. These therapies are highly effective and are evidence-based.


Often Clinical Psychologists are better trained in the talking therapies than Psychiatrists, because they have concentrated on this area specifically throughout all their professional career. Clinical Psychologists will never disagree with this statement.



A Psychologist has completed a three year Arts degree in Psychology. They have not been able to progress to Clinical Psychology training. As their training is recognised to be inferior to a Clinical Psychologist, they cannot command a very high Medicare Rebate from the government for their patients. This may actually make them more expensive than Clinical Psychologists, as the Psychologists must pass the cost onto their patients.



There are many counsellors, wellness practitioners, mediators, relationship therapists etc in practice. They do not have any recognised qualifications which can command any Medicare Rebates. As such they can be expensive to see. They do not have any professional oversight by the Australian Psychological Society.