Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a psychologist, counsellor, therapist, psychiatrist?

Basically the difference is the individual’s qualifications/training. Most specialists need to maintain ongoing/ yearly accreditation. A good question to ask is what and when was the specialist’s most recent CPD (Continuing Professional Development) training?

Research shows that the therapeutic relationship is one of the strongest predictors of successful. This is why at Connecting Mental Health the main focus is not on ‘titles’ of the therapists, but rather the modalities and approaches of the therapists.

Below is a breakdown of the most common types of specialists in alphabetical order:

Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, AMHSW

AMHSWs are university-educated professionals who have completed a bachelor or master’s degree in social work, followed by at least 2 years of supervised clinical experience in a mental health specific social work role, and then completion of a thorough accreditation process through The Australian Association of Social Workers. Only after successful completion of this accreditation process can a social worker be known as an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker (AMHSW) and then be able to register for a Medicare Provider Number, enabling them to offer Medicare rebated counselling through a Mental Health Treatment Plan provided by a GP.


A counsellor is a person trained to help you with concerns or problems such as anxiety, depression, grief or relationship difficulties. They aim to help you resolve problems in a positive way by helping you to clarify the issues, explore options, develop strategies and increase self-awareness.

There is currently no law in Australia that requires a person who provides a counselling service to have qualifications and/or experience. This is why it’s important to ask, towards all therapists, what their qualifications, experience and recent training is to get a better sense of their skills and resources.

Mental Health Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists specialising in mental health work with individuals to support them to identify and successfully engage in the everyday activities they find meaningful. They draw on, and are trained in, occupational therapy specific tools and approaches as well as structured psychological techniques. Occupational therapists bring a unique occupational focus, addressing the activities and occupations that are important and meaningful to a person’s daily life.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed specialised training in psychiatry, which is how to diagnose, treat and prevent mental, emotional and behavioural disorders.

They work in different ways and can use a combination of treatments, including counselling, psychotherapy and medication such as antidepressants. They can admit people to hospital if needed.

You will probably need to see a psychiatrist if you have a severe mental health condition such as:

  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety disorders, like panic attacks and phobias
  • Complex conditions, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Psychiatrists and paediatricians are the only specialists that can prescribe schedule 8 medications.


When you seek support from a psychologist, you might see a psychologist with general registration, or one who also has a specific ‘area of practice endorsement’, such as clinical psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology or sport and exercise psychology.

The two most common psychologists within the therapy space are:

Registered Psychologist

A registered psychologist is somebody who has completed a four-year university degree and has obtained either a post-graduate university degree or completed an equivalent of two years of supervised practical training to obtain registration as a psychologist.

Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist has completed a six-year university degree and undertaken an equivalent of two years of supervised practical training.

Not necessarily. The only reason you need a referral or Mental Health Treatment Plan is to access a Medicare rebate, rather than just paying the full fee. Not all therapists are eligible for a Medicare provider number. Without a Medicare provider number, a therapist cannot claim the Medicare rebate. With this in mind, it might be helpful to think about why you are seeking professional support, as your reason and chosen practitioner may not need a Medicare provider number to provide the relevant support that you are seeking.

A Mental Health Treatment Plan (previously known as a ‘mental health care plan’) is a plan that a doctor completes with you. It is best to book a long doctors appointment for this, as it takes time for the doctor to discuss and complete the plan with you.

There are three doctors that can write a Mental Health Treatment Plan, they are a GP, psychiatrist or a paediatrician.

The plan identifies what type of health care you need and spells out what you and your doctor have agreed you are aiming to achieve.

The MHTP provides up to 10 individual sessions in a calendar year. Your referring

doctor will assess your progress after the first six sessions.

You can also access up to 10 group therapy sessions in a calendar year where such services are available and seen as appropriate by your referring doctor.

This specific plan was developed in 2019 to support people living with anorexia

nervosa and other eating disorders. The changes are relevant for medical

practitioners (including GPs, psychiatrists, and paediatricians), and eligible

psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers, and dieticians.

A medical doctor in general practice (GP), consultant paediatrician, or consultant

psychiatrist can develop an EDP. This doctor is recognised as the managing

practitioner. It is important to allow a longer appointment time to discuss and develop

a plan that meets the needs of the person living with an eating disorder.

People eligible for the EDP will be able to access comprehensive treatment and

management services for a 12-month period, including:

  • Assessment and treatment planning
  • Up to 40 sessions of evidence-based psychological treatment from a mental health professional
  • Up to 20 sessions of dietetic services from an accredited practicing dietician (as recognised by Dieticians Australia)
  • Review and ongoing management services to ensure the person accesses the appropriate level of intervention

To be eligible, your patient must be enrolled in Medicare and diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

You may also be eligible if you meet the following criteria:

  • Diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder or other feeding or eating disorder
  • A score of 3 or more on the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire
  • Rapid weight loss or binge eating or inappropriate compensatory behaviour 3 or more times a week.

If you have not been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa you must also have at least 2 of the following indicators:

  • Body weight less than 85% of expected weight as a result of an eating disorder
  • High risk of or current medical complications due to eating disorder behaviours and symptoms
  • Serious comorbid medical or psychological conditions that significantly impact your medical or psychological health
  • Hospital admittance for an eating disorder in the last 12 months
  • Inadequate treatment response to evidence-based eating disorder treatments over the last 6 months.

The sessional cost will vary from therapist to therapist. The sessional cost and the

Medicare rebate will also vary depending on the length of the session.

You can review Medicare rebates here. These rebates may change with time. Below

are correct as of July 2023.

Accredited Mental Health Social Worker (50+mins session) $81.90

Clinical Psychologist (50+mins session) $136.35

Occupational Therapist (20+mins) $58.00

Psychiatrist (45+mins session) $217.05

Registered Psychologist (50+mins session) $92.90

The Medicare Safety Net is the dollar amount you need to reach in the gap/out of

pocket costs to be eligible for a higher Medicare benefit. This means you’ll get more

money back from Medicare for certain Medicare services (GP, counselling,

psychiatrist, etc.) once you reach your Medicare Safety Net. Medicare rebates/

Safety may change. Please refer here for up-to-date figures.

Concessional and Family Tax Benefit Part A Medicare Safety Net = $770.30

General / Family Medicare Safety Net = $2414.00

This is different for each specialist. Asking the specialist beforehand what you might

expect during the first session can help reduce anxiety. You might like to ask such

questions as, will I need to share my whole life story? Can I bring a support

person/pet? How long will the session go for?