Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist, and Registered Counselor: What’s the Difference?

therapist providing consultation to the patient

Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist, and Registered Counselor: What’s the Difference?

Searching for the right mental health service can be confusing. Different professionals come with different designations. Among the common job titles involved in providing mental health services in Malaysia are the clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, and registered counselor.

Clinical Psychologist

Education & Training

A clinical psychologist possesses a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and had furthered his/ her training into the field of clinical psychology. Requirements to become a clinical psychologist may differ, depending on which part of the world you are in.

In Malaysia, membership into the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology (MSCP) would require at least a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology. Further requirements would be that the member fulfills 1500 supervised hours during his/ her master degree studies, of which 700 are direct hours of work with their clients.

The Laws of Malaysia govern the profession, namely the Allied Health Professions Act 2016. View the directory of clinical psychologists here.

Job Description

In the daily work of a clinical psychologist, he/ she spends time assessing, diagnosing, treating, researching, and preventing mental health issues. The American Psychological Association lists down these competencies as part of being a clinical psychologist:

  • Able to diagnose and provide treatment for mental health issues.
  • Has in-depth understanding of mental health issues of people from across a lifespan (children to the elderly).
  • Provide psychological assessment, which include administration of standardized assessment tools.
  • Communicate with people and organizations regarding mental health issues.
  • Have the skills to undertake research into mental health-related topics and concerns.

A clinical psychologist does not have a medical background. This would mean that he/ she does not prescribe medication to treat mental health issues. Instead, provision of treatment is done through psychotherapy (e.g. successive consultation sessions).


Education & Training

A psychiatrist has to first undergo conventional medical training (5 – 6 years medical degree). Once graduating as a medical doctor, the person must then serve in a government hospital for four years. This will then qualify the doctor to specialize into psychiatry.

To be a registered psychiatrist, the medical doctor has to complete a 4 year master degree and an additional 6 months if training. To legally practice medicine in Malaysia, every medical practitioner has to register with the Malaysian Medical Council.

Job Description

Assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues are within the area of competence of a psychiatrist. Furthermore, a psychiatrist has undergone the required training in pharmacology. As a result, he/ she will be able to prescribe medication in treating mental health issues. A psychiatrist is primarily trained with the medical model of mental health, but may also provide psychotherapy.

Registered Counselor

Education & Training

While there are exceptions, a registered counselor generally has at least a Master’s Degree in Counseling. There is no pre-requisite for the person to have a background in psychology (although it is common to have psychology graduates enrolled in a counseling program). Further requirements to be a registered counselor will be to complete 1 practicum (252 hours, of which 96 are direct client hours) and 1 internship (504 hours, of which 192 are direct client hours).

Registration of a counselor is in accordance to the Counsellors Act 1998. The term “registered counselor” is a protected title, with job duties unique to it. View the directory of registered counselors here.

Note: a registered counselor is not to be mistaken for a counseling psychologist. These two designations are different, with different educational and training requirements. This article does not cover information regarding a counseling psychologist . This is because there are limited educational programs in Malaysia that would allow a person to be one.

Job Description

A registered counselor will be able to offer counseling services (e.g. talk therapy). Counseling is known as a process of “talking and working through your personal problems“. Among the issues that can be raised and addressed in counseling are (source):

  • grief and loss
  • communication and relationships issues
  • work and career issues
  • stress, anxiety and depression
  • life transitions such as the birth of a new baby, separation, divorce or the death of a family member or friend
  • parenting
  • addiction
  • abuse
  • trauma
  • self-esteem difficulties
  • exploring their gender identity and/or sexuality.

While a registered counselor can similarly provide talk therapy as with a clinical psychologist, a registered counselor does not have required training in psychopathology (e.g. mental illness). As such, a registered counselor does not provide psychological assessments and diagnosis. A registered counselor is not from a medical background. As such, he/ she does not prescribe medication in treating mental health issues.


By making the right choice, a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor can provide a level of care or type of service that is most suited to your mental health needs.

Be aware of your rights as a consumer. You can expect fair and unbiased opinions from your mental health professional on the best option for you. For more information, kindly consult with one today.