What’s the difference between a Counsellor and a Psychologist?

A Counsellor has completed undergraduate and/or postgraduate college or university training in Counselling and may have qualifications in related fields as well. Counsellors engage in ongoing supervision and professional development to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. Make sure your counsellor is trained in Counselling and is a registered Clinical Member of a professional association such as the 

PACFA » Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA)

or the Australian Counselling Association (ACA). PACFA Registrants are listed on the Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists ARCAP. 


Counselling generally focuses on what’s happening in the present and how it is impacting on you, rather than focusing on your childhood or past. Sometimes it may be important to briefly revisit the past to clear away a current block. There are many different counselling methods and your counsellor may be a specialist in one of more, or use an integrative approach. 


PACFA provides an information sheet on a definition of counselling. 



A Registered Psychologist has a minimum of six years of university training and supervised experience, and engages in ongoing education to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. Psychologists must be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and listed with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). 


Psychologists are trained in the science of human behaviour and study the brain, memory, learning, and human development. Psychologists assess, diagnose and treat psychological problems and mental health issues, or are involved in psychological research. Psychologists treat a wide range of conditions a wide range of conditions including pain, anxiety, and mood disorders. Psychologists generally use cognitive-behavioural or interpersonal therapy rather than an integrative approach.

Do I need a doctor’s referral to see a Counsellor?

No, you only need a referral to see a Psychologist or Psychiatrist under a mental health care plan. With a referral you can access a number of partly subsidised sessions with a Clinical Psychologist. This is a more expensive service than Counselling with a registered counsellor. Ask what the gap payment is that you would be required to pay so you can make an informed choice around fees. 

Is Counselling covered under a Mental Health Care Plan?

Medicare does not cover counselling with a registered counsellor, though your health fund may provide a rebate for this service. You need to ask your health fund specifically whether you are covered for counselling with a registered counsellor.  

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue, you’re entitled to subsidised mental health care through the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme, with rebates available for a number of sessions with a psychologist, occupational therapist or social worker. Often there may be a gap payment as these are more expensive services than counselling, unless the service is bulk billed.

To be eligible, you must visit your GP who will assess whether a GP Mental Health Treatment Plan is appropriate, or refer you to a psychiatrist who may prepare a psychiatrist assessment and management plan. Psychiatrists and paediatricians are also able to directly refer patients for Medicare rebate-able mental health services.

Can I get free counselling?

You may be able to find some free counselling services or a psychologist who bulk bills. Check on waiting periods. 

How many sessions will I need?

The number of sessions depends on the nature of issue you want help with, how severe it is, and your particular goals. It also depends on your capacity for change and how the learning process works for you. Weekly at the start or fortnightly is a common pattern for people. You need to consider these things, and what best suits you and your budget. 

How long is a counselling session?

Most counselling sessions are 50 or 55 minutes long, although some counsellors may offer longer sessions.

How can I be sure of a counsellor’s professionalism?

All counsellors listed on PACFA’s National Register or with the ACA are required to follow a code of ethics and engage in ongoing education and supervision of their practice. They also follow the NSW Health Code of Conduct for Unregulated Health Professionals (2010).

Contact Linda Magson, Sydney counsellor to book your counselling or like coaching appointment.