What is a Psychologist?

What is a Psychologist?

There are many different kinds of mental health care providers. It is useful to understand the difference between them in order to decide which service is best suited to your particular needs. Below is a brief explanation of what it means to be a psychologist, as well as descriptions of some other mental health care providers.


The Profession of Psychology

A psychologist is someone who has specialized training in the study of mental processes and behaviour. Psychologists provide assessment and therapeutic services for a wide range of emotional and mental disorders. To practice the profession of psychology in Ontario, an individual must hold a current certificate of registration from the College of Psychologists of Ontario. A psychologist usually has a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in psychology. This involves approximately six years of graduate study following a four-year undergraduate degree. The graduate study includes extensive clinical training in addition to coursework and psychological research. Following the completion of the Ph.D., the candidate must complete a further period of supervised clinical work as well as successfully complete oral and written registration examinations. By the time of registration, a psychologist has had approximately 4,000 hours of supervised practice. As a member of the College, psychologists must practice according to the laws governing health professionals in Ontario, the Regulations, Standards, and Professional Guidelines of the College, and the Canadian Code of Ethics for psychologists. Psychologists are required to continually update their knowledge, skills, and competency and are also required to practice within the bounds of their competency. A psychologist’s areas of competency are defined by training received during or after graduate school. For example, a psychologist working with children should be trained in the area of child psychology. Psychologists may work in many different settings including clinics, schools, hospitals, prisons or business and industry settings.

Side Note:


Other provinces have different requirements. In some provinces such as New Brunswick, one can use the title of psychologist without a PhD. Recent legislation has allowed for transfer of the title of psychologist from one province to another. As a result, there are a few psychologists in Ottawa who do not have a doctoral degree.

Other Mental Health Practioners

Psychological associates

The College of Psychologists of Ontario also regulates the work of psychological associates. This term refers to practitioners who have a Master’s degree in psychology. This requires one or two years of graduate study and several years of supervised clinical practice. The psychological associate must also pass registration exams and practice in accordance with regulations listed above. 


There is often confusion regarding the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Both are professionals most commonly responsible for the treatment of people with mental health problems. Psychiatrists are medical doctors. In addition to their medical training they receive specialized training in psychiatry. This involves a four-year residency period and registration examinations. They are governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons and are required to practice in accordance with laws and regulations as set out by that College. Because they are medical doctors, they are trained in the use of medications and are able to prescribe medications such as antidepressants. Furthermore, as medical doctors, their services are paid for through the OHIP system. 


Psychologists and psychiatrists practice “psychotherapy” (psycho from psychological giving rise to the term psychotherapy). However, recent legislation has created a newly protected title of psychotherapist. These practitioners typically hold a Master’s of Education in counselling which requires 400 hours of supervised practice and usually involves providing assistance to those with problems of daily living such as a life transition or the work of school guidance counsellor. These practitioners are not trained in and cannot provide psychological assessment or diagnoses which are protected acts reserved for physicians and psychologists. 

Counsellor, Coach

The terms counsellor or coach are unprotected titles. Anybody can provide services using these titles.

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