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  • Writer's pictureDana Qablawi

What's The Difference Between A Social Worker, Psychotherapist, Psychologist and Psychiatrist?

Mental health professional speaking to a child. Counselling social worker, psychotherapist, psychologist, psychiatrist

Taking that initial step towards counselling can be very nerve wracking. But it is something you should also be very proud of!

The first question clients typically ask at the start of their journey is “what are the different types of mental health care providers?” It can be overwhelming trying to differentiate between the different professions so we are going to break it down and go through them. This way we can get a better understanding of the different professions and their roles.

Before we begin it is important to note that social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are all regulated professions.

What is a Regulated Profession?

When we refer to a profession as regulated, that means that the job requires a certain level of education and training. This is to ensure that the services provided are conducted in a safe, professional, and ethical manner to benefit the general public.

Let's break down the differences between different types of regulated mental health professionals.

Social Workers

To become a social worker an individual must obtain a Bachelors of Social Work undergraduate degree. They can then complete a Masters of Social Work degree and can become registered through the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. (MSW, RSW)

You can typically find social workers working in hospitals, social service agencies, community centres, schools, and even private practice, like us.

Often times, counselling sessions with social workers can be claimed by insurance, but every insurance plan is unique, so check with your employer.


Psychotherapists are registered with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). They are required to complete an undergraduate program and master’s degree. This typically means they can have a variety of educational backgrounds for their undergraduate but then have completed a master’s in counselling. To be registered with the CRPO, psychotherapists must complete 450 hours of direct client work and 100 hours of clinical supervision. While they are practicing with supervision, they are a registered psychotherapist qualifying (RPQ). Once they have completed their supervision hours and exam they become a Registered Psychotherapist (RP).

Often times, counselling sessions with psychotherapists can be claimed by insurance, but every insurance plan is unique, so check with your employer.

It is important to note that while Social Workers and Psychotherapists can provide counselling services and use a number of treatment modalities, they are not able to provide a diagnosis or prescribe medication.

How Social Workers and Psychotherapists Practice

Both social workers and psychotherapists use "talk therapy" and use similar therapeutic approaches including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), EMDR and more.

They often give "homework" - worksheets or other mindset practices to help their clients with making change towards their mental wellness goals.

They may also recommend specific books, courses, support groups or other resources to support their client.


Psychologists are mental health professionals who have received a doctorate degree in the field of psychology. Just like a psychotherapist, a psychologist must complete a certain number of supervised hours. In terms of supervision hours, psychotherapists require 100 hours of supervised work whereas psychologists require 1500 hours of supervised clinical work. Along with the clinical work, a psychologist must also complete written and oral examinations before they can become registered.

One of the differences between social workers and psychotherapists versus psychologists is that psychologists are able to provide a diagnosis, complete psychological assessments.

These assessments include emotional and behavioural disorders, learning disabilities as well as Autism spectrum disorders.

Psychologists also offer talk therapy.

The main difference between psychologists and psychiatrists is that psychologists are not able to prescribe psychoactive medication (such as antidepressants) to their clients.


When we refer to someone as a psychiatrist we are referring to a medical doctor. They would be required to attend medical school, just like a family doctor would. When it comes to their residency, they would specialize in the field of psychiatry. The field of psychiatry is a branch of medicine that focuses on diagnosing and treating emotional and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities as well as Autism spectrum disorders.

Just like a psychologist, psychiatrists are able to diagnose mental health conditions, but the main difference is they are able to prescribe psychoactive medications.

Most psychiatrists do not offer talk therapy.

It is important to note that out of all the professions we spoke about, psychiatrists are the only ones who would be covered by OHIP in Ontario.

We Are Here for You

Here at Anchoridge, we offering counselling with both registered social workers and registered psychotherapists. Each profession includes their own strengths, skills, and scope of practice.

For therapy to be effective, it's important to feel comfortable and a good connection with your therapist. Our intake process is designed to match you with the right clinician so you can get the most out of your sessions. The ultimate goal is that you feel comfortable with your clinician and supported throughout your journey.

Ready to get started on your mental wellness journey?

Book your intake call today by clicking below.

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