Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

9 February 2018
This article was published before the transition to the new Plan Administrator, Canada Life. If you have any questions, contact the PSHCP Member Contact Centre at 1-855-415-4414 (toll-free anywhere in North America) or 1-431-489-4064 (call collect if you are outside North America).

Under the Medical Practitioners Benefit, the PSHCP provides coverage for various paramedical services, such as psychologists. However, the Plan does not provide reimbursement for expenses incurred for the services of a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist.

In October 2014, the coverage offered under the PSHCP for the services of a psychologist increased from $1,000 to $2,000 per calendar year (reimbursed at 80%). To be eligible under the Plan, the services rendered must:

  • be performed by a psychologist that is registered, licensed or certified—in accordance with provincial/territorial regulations—to practive in the jurisdiction where the services are rendered;
  • Require the skills and qualifications of the psychologist; and
  • be in the area of expertise of the psychologist.

For Plan members who live in isolated posts where there is no practicing psychologist, the PSHCP provides coverage for the services of a social worker. To be eligible, the social worker must have a Master’s degree in Social Work and be listed on the appropriate provincial/territorial registry. The isolated post must be identified in the National Joint Council’s Isolated Posts and Government Housing Directive.


The minimum provincial/territorial educational requirement to become a psychologist varies from region to region. Some require a Doctoral Degree in psychology and others require a Master’s degree in psychology. Psychologists must also be registered or licensed with the appropriate regulating body in the province or territory where they practice. Psychologists are not authorized to prescribe medication as part of the treatment they provide.


These practitioners must hold a Master’s degree in counselling or a related field in order to become certified with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, a national bilingual association of professionally trained counsellors and psychotherapists. Not being a member of, or being certified by, the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association does not prevent a psychotherapist or counsellor from practicing. Only a few provinces in Canada require psychotherapists to be regulated under a legislative act, namely Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Provincial associations issue permits to psychotherapists to allow them to practice in the province.

Psychotherapists are also not authorized to prescribe medication as part of the treatment they provide.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with a Doctoral Degree (M.D.). Because of their medical training, psychiatrists do prescribe medication for the purpose of treating mental illnesses. In order to practice in Canada, psychiatrists must have a degree in medicine, a license to practice medicine in their province as well as a specialist certification from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or a provincial college.

For more information on the PSHCP’s Medical Practitioners Benefit, click here, or contact the PSHCP Call Centre.