A clinical psychologist has spent all of his/her study focusing on psychology and clinical psychology. A psychiatrist has studied medicine first, then gone on to a further four years of study and work with mental illness. Psychologists only use therapies based on talking or doing things, whereas psychiatrists will sometimes use medication to help in treatment. A clinical psychologist may provide counselling and psychotherapy but will also draw from rigorous scientific research to ensure that treatments are effective and well matched to what the client wants. Clinical psychologists will often be more “active” than psychotherapists and counsellors.

Clinical Psychologists do not currently prescribe drugs but most will have a good understanding of relevant medicines and will be able to identify when you should consult your doctor for medical help.


Psychiatry is a medical specialty, in the same way that cardiology, paediatrics, and orthopaedic surgery are medical specialties. Psychiatry is the medical specialty that deals with mental illness. Like other specialists, psychiatrists have to undertake a basic medical degree and then complete advanced training in their particular area of specialty. In New Zealand a major difference in the training of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists is that psychiatrists prescribe medications while clinical psychologists primarily use talk therapies to understand and resolve the issues they are facing. Some psychiatrists have a strong interest in psychological therapy but it is probably true in general that psychiatrists have particular strengths in understanding the biological processes associated with mental health problems and the use of medication as a treatment. To practise psychiatry in New Zealand, psychiatrists must be registered with New Zealand Medical Council. Many are members of the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. In practice, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists often work with similar clients, and often work together.


In New Zealand, psychotherapy commonly refers to psychological therapies that are based on so-called psychodynamic theories of human behaviour and personality. These theories emphasise the importance of unconscious mental processes, early childhood experiences, and the role of emotions in shaping behaviour.


The concept of counselling has actually been around for ages, and it reflects the need for one person to seek out help or advice from another person. Counselling as a professional occupation arose not from the clinic but from more social settings. It focuses on helping people resolve problems or role issues related to work or school or family matters.

Here are some general characteristics of counselling

It is concerned with “normal” problems rather than mental health problems
It is concerned with role functioning, with choices to be made, and with actions to be taken
It is more concerned with present events than with past events
Counselling in New Zealand has not traditionally been associated with qualifications in psychology, or with any particular form of training. This is changing, with various courses in counselling now on offer, including ones with tertiary degree status. There is no official registration process for counsellors.


Coaching, like counselling, primarily aims to help “healthy” clients. Instead of helping them solve problems, coaching focuses on helping persons utilise their abilities more effectively than they have previously. 

Some general characteristics of coaching are that it can focus on personal work but it is usually used in business settings; it tends to help persons achieve personal and business goals; and no license or official registration is needed to practise coaching.