The Differences Between Mental Health Professionals

While the terms of mental health professionals are often used interchangeably, there are critical differences between the professions that many may not be aware of. To learn more about what each occupation entails, keep reading on.


According to the Singaporean Ministry of Health, there are currently approximately 248 psychiatrists and 473 psychologists throughout the country, translating to 4.4 psychiatrists and 8.3 psychologists per 100,000 citizens. However, the Ministry of Health openly admits that they do not have current data on counselors, social workers, and life coaches. Interestingly enough, this plays well into the topic we are going to be covering today: the differences between mental health professionals.

As you can see, there are common misconceptions concerning the employment distinctions between psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and life coaches. Only collecting data on two out of the four professionals suggests that while these treatment roles are different in nature, they are being categorized as the same. Therefore, the purpose of our article today is to outline each profession for its unique treatment abilities so that you may better understand the variety of mental health services available to you, should you need to seek help.

What is a Psychiatrist?


A psychiatrist in Singapore is a licensed medical doctor who has received formal, post-graduate education with a clinical residency that accurately diagnoses and administers mental health treatment. The Ministry of Health regulates all psychiatrists, and at a minimum, have obtained a master’s degree in Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in Medicine and Surgery. All in all, it takes psychiatrists a total of 11 to 13 years of school and residency before they are fully allowed to practice in a clinic or hospital.

Accordingly, depending on the individual psychiatrist’s training, they may perform talk therapy sessions with clients; however, clients are often referred to psychologists for therapy after they have been formally diagnosed by a psychiatrist who may also prescribe medications if appropriate for the mental health condition.

What is a Psychologist?


Unlike psychiatry, psychologists are not officially regulated by the government. Thus, anyone is able to define themselves as a psychologist and practice accordingly. That being said, the majority of psychologists who practice throughout Singapore have obtained some type of licensing within the country or in another region. Additionally, most psychologists also choose to register for the voluntary Singapore Psychological Society voluntarily. Thus, by doing so, it is confirmed that they have completed the necessary requirements to practice as a psychologist. Further, clinical psychologists who have specialized training can perform various treatment methods to assist clients who are experiencing a mental health problem related to emotional and psychological distress. Popular treatment methods include talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Mental Health Social Worker


On the opposite of the spectrum of mental health professionals, we have social workers. A mental health social worker’s professional duty is to help empower people who are dealing with mental illness. Through therapy, ongoing support, and advocacy for the individual, social workers enable to manage the client’s social relationships, including making sure they have proper housing and employment options available to them. In a way, mental health social workers provide support in all aspects of an individual’s life. They are there to guide them on their journey outside of treatment as well.

Further, in order to become a mental health social worker in Singapore, individuals must have a minimum of a diploma, degree, or master’s in Social Work from a SASW accredited educational institution.

Life Coach


According to the official Collective Change Institute, “Life coaching is a self-induced change process an individual goes through with the help of a partner –a coach. The aim of life coaching is to help you work towards achieving what you want from life.” A life coach is hired to work closely with clients to help them develop a positive and productive lifestyle while overcoming their fears so that they may improve their life overall, including finding their real purpose. Throughout your journey with your life coach, you will learn how to align with your true self by speaking in depth with your coach on a regular basis. A life coach can assist you with:

  • Finding a job that you are passionate about

  • How to better handle your finances

  • How to deal with stress in a positive manner

  • How to achieve a balanced life

  • How to create the lifestyle you dream about

  • How to discover your true passion and purpose in life

Final Thoughts

As you can see, while these professions are often used interchangeably to describe mental health, each employment position embodies different educational requirements and regulatory bodies that govern their practice standards. Nonetheless, each profession plays a vital role in treating those who are experiencing mental health problems. There need to be more initiatives to standardize the profession of psychology so that psychologists must adhere to a regulated body’s practice and ethical standards.

**Please note that no formal licensure policy or acknowledged organization holds the legal mandate to implement the quality of counselling assistance and the liability of counsellors’ behaviors. Counsellors should not be uninformed of ethical standards and the obligations of practice. Every opportunity should be explored to enhance the quality of training through representation and connection of ethical standards, further, to establish the identity and credibility of the counseling profession.

More Articles

Where private practice meets
A Space Between provides flexible co-working office spaces for rent to therapists and other professionals in Singapore.

A Space Between is a destination for mental health therapy activities. Counsellors utilise our many conducive therapy rooms for consultations. Located conveniently downtown and offering your independent therapists rent by the hour, we house many professional mental health practitioners, including LGBTQ+ friendly ones. To find out more about the therapists practising in A Space Between, write to us at [email protected].

Subscribe to our newsletter!