What does it mean when someone says they are seeing a therapist? What is the title of the professional that first comes to your mind? We have broadly three categories of mental health professionals in Malaysia. People often confuse the three professionals for each other but we’re here to clear that up today. We’ll throw in a bonus professional at the end of the list too.

But before that, can the words therapy and counselling be used interchangeably? Some may point out that ‘counselling’ refers to a more short-term treatment that focuses on achieving specific goals and targets, hence the terms ‘family/marriage counselling’ or ‘substance use counselling’ or ‘career counselling’. However, most of the time, therapy and counselling are used interchangeably when referring to talk therapy.

Here are the three mental health professionals and their differentiating factors:

  1. Licensed and registered counsellor
    1. They have a master’s in counselling and are regulated by the Malaysian Board of Counsellors (LKM)
    2. They provide talk therapy and can specialize in different treatment modalities
    3. They are not able to diagnose or prescribe medication
  2. Clinical psychologist
    1. They have a master’s in clinical psychology
    2. They provide talk therapy and can also specialize in different treatment modalities
    3. They can conduct assessments for clinical diagnoses
  3. Psychiatrist
    1. Medical doctors by training, specializing in psychiatry, and are regulated by medical boards and professional associations
    2. They can diagnose and prescribe medication
    3. Only a few psychiatrists do talk therapy
    4. Often seen in conjunction with a counsellor or a clinical psychologist
  4. Counselling psychologist – We have our very own counselling psychologist here at ABRI – Cathie! 
    1. She has a master’s in counselling psychology from Canada and provides talk therapy
    2. She can conduct assessments and screening but she does not provide formal diagnoses

If counsellors and clinical psychologists can both provide talk therapy, how should I choose between the two? Good question! Generally, because of a clinical psychologist’s training in providing diagnoses, their rates are likely to be higher, and in some people’s experience (not all), a clinical psychologist will have more structure in sessions, which may or may not be your cup of tea.

Another question you may have in mind is – what about intern counsellors/clinical psychologists? How are they different from licensed mental health professionals? Some are hesitant to see a trainee counsellor while others may happily book a session with one. It depends on your comfort level. Intern counsellors and clinical psychologists are trying to work their way towards licensure by collecting practical hours from seeing clients. It is best to keep in mind that since they are still in the process of learning, there will be a difference in competence level but it should not be to the point of inflicting harm. Generally, interns are supervised by a licensed professional so they should be receiving support and guidance throughout their practicum/internship period. It is also not uncommon for interns to request consent for recording the sessions as the recordings are used to facilitate learning and reflection during supervision.

Here at ABRI, we also have therapists who specialize in specific therapy modalities such as play therapy, trauma therapy and art therapy. They have received additional training in their chosen areas of interest, including required hours of practice and supervision. If you are interested in learning more about these therapies, let us know!

Do you have any other questions about therapy? We would be more than happy to answer them in a post.

You can bookmark this post as a reference if you ever get confused or if you know someone who needs access to this information.

If you’re ready to see a therapist at ABRI, you can reach out to us via Whatsapp or the Contact Us page.


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