What’s the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Counsellor?





What does a counsellor do?

Counselling is a talking therapy that involves a trained therapist listening to you and helping you find ways to deal with emotional issues.

What a Counsellor actually does and how they are trained varies from country to country. In Malaysia most Counsellors are taught Person-Centred Therapy. The Person-Centered approach trusts in others’ potential. It aims to give clients empathy and unconditional positive regard because this is shown to help them change. Counsellors avoid telling people what to do and instead allow the person to explore their issues so that they can discover solutions for themselves.

Counsellors usually work with particular life problems, such as difficulties at school or issues in a marriage. In Malaysia, some counsellors have received a few weeks training whilst others hold a Masters qualification.

Some counsellors in Malaysia and counsellors who have trained outside of Malaysia will have been taught a wider range of therapeutic skills and approaches that they can use to help their clients.

I should note that most of the information on Counsellors in Malaysia is written in Malay so the above information is based on the Counsellors I have met. The Malaysian Board of Counselors should give you more information. If their website Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia is down you can access their Facebook pages.

What does a Clinical Psychologist do?

Clinical Psychologists are also taught to listen to others in a supportive, non-judgemental manner. However, we also teach people new skills that will help them resolve the emotional difficulty they are facing.

Clinical Psychologists will decide which skills to teach using the ‘scientist-practitioner’ approach. This approach involves applying our knowledge of psychological research and theory and using a scientific approach to working with people. First we ‘assess’ what difficulties a person has, then we hypothesise how their problems may have started and what’s keeping them going (‘formulation’) and then we use this information to decide on the best ‘intervention’.

The intervention may involve teaching the person new skills or helping them see things in a different way so those problems trouble them less. Following the intervention we ‘evaluate’ the effectiveness of the intervention. If we haven’t made a positive change then we go back to the assessment phase so we can develop a new formulation (hypothesis) that leads to a better intervention. This new intervention will be evaluated and the process begins again unless the person is satisfied with the changes that they’ve made. This is the same approach that scientists use to gain new knowledge.

Clinical Psychologists can work with problems ranging from every-day life problems to severe psychological problems.

One competency that is unique to Clinical Psychologists is that we are trained to use neuropsychological assessments. These assessments look at the patterns of an individual’s different cognitive abilities such as verbal intelligence, visual-spatial ability memory, executive functioning etc to determine why they may be having academic or professional difficulties. You can read more about them here.

In Malaysia Clinical Psychologists must have at least a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology in order to practice.

You can find more information on becoming a Clinical Psychologist on this site.

You can also read more about the way I work. 

If you have any comments or questions please leave them below.


  1. I am not an science stream student when I was in Form 5 (SPM) and I am currently studying in form 6 (STPM) now. Can I be a clinical psycologist?

    • Hi, yes you can still be a clinical psychologist. To get onto a clinical psychology masters or doctoral course you usually need to have a Psychology undergraduate degree. Psychology degree courses prefer candidates that have done sciences but it’s still possible for other students to attend. I was the admissions tutor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia’s Psychology degree course and I often accepted arts students onto the course. Other courses may have different requirements. If you’re interested you can go to the university’s psychology pages and check their minimum academic requirements. For example, Nottingham’s minimum requirements can be found here : https://www.nottingham.edu.my/Study/Undergraduate-courses/Psychology/Psychology-BSc-(Hons).aspx (you may have to click on Entry Requirements).

  2. Hi Dr. May I know what are the career prospects upon completion of MSc in Clinical Psychology? I believe that not all Clinical Psychologist are working in the field that they would like to. On the other hand, do you happen to know how many clinical psychologist are working in a hospital?

    • Presently, there are very few jobs available in Clinical Psychology. The government only has a few positions available for clinical psychologists so there aren’t many clinical psychologists working in government hospitals (I estimate less than 15). Some clinical psychologists work with universities because those jobs are often better paid. The majority of clinical psychologists work for themselves or partner with other clinical psychologists. You have to be more entrepreneurial to do this but it does seem to be a viable option.

  3. Hi Dr. Dan, you mentioned that in Malaysia, Clinical Psychologists must have at least a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology in order to practice.

    My question would be, if I have a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology (MSc in Professional Counselling in Monash University), would it possible to practice therapy in local mental health clinics?

    • Hi Jag, the MSc in Professional Counselling at Monash University seems to be a good course (based on my interactions with the trainees I have met). It’s a counselling course so it would be regulated by the rules concerning counselling rather than those concerning clinical psychology. I think the Monash course is accredited by Australian Counselling bodies and it has been submitted for accreditation by the Malaysian Board of Counsellors. I don’t know whether that would allow you to work in the local mental health clinics. It is possible that an individual can apply for accreditation by the Malaysian Board of Counsellors once they’ve completed the Monash course even if the course itself is not yet accredited. It’s also possible that the Mental Health Clinics might accept the Australian accreditation. I think the best option would be to contact the Monash course directly and ask them how their graduates have been faring in finding work.

  4. Hi Dr. Dan,
    I am a medical doctor with MBBS, and I am interested in being a clinical psychologist. I see Psychological issues as ‘in demand’ nowadays in Malaysia, I would like to contribute more in this field (than being a psychiatrist). My question is, I don’t have any basic in the subject, will it be possible to straightaway do Master? Second question, what is your opinion on the career pathway after completion of Master in Clinical Psychology?

    • Hi Amirah, it’s really good to hear that you’re interested in psychological issues as a medical doctor. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to transfer from medicine to clinical psychology because most of the clinical psychology courses require you to have a psychology undergraduate degree (or at least have done a conversion masters in psychology). The career path for clinical psychologists is a bit more challenging – at the moment you need to be quite entrepreneurial as there aren’t many jobs available. Malaysia would really benefit from having psychiatrists that were also trained in talking therapies. If you chose to specialise in psychiatry and then do extra training in talking therapies I think you would be in demand (and there are jobs available in the public system for psychiatrists).

    • Clinical Psychology courses usually require that you have a psychology undergraduate degree. However, you can check with each course just in case they accept a counselling degree. If you are already a registered counsellor you could try to get some post graduate qualifications or training in different counselling techniques. Or you could do a post-gradaute counselling qualification (such as the Masters in Professional Counseling at Monash University)

  5. Dear Dr Dan, I am currently making a research to pursue my studies in the area of psychology. I came across one program in Open University Malaysia, KL Campus offering Master of Psychology.

    Firstly, I am trying to learn the difference between qualification that has the word “clinical” in it.
    Are there any difference when i graduate in Master of Psychology VS. Master of Clinical Psychology.

    Secondly, when someone call himself a psychologist, what qualities or qualification one must possess to address himself a psychologist?

    Down the road, I am slanted to work towards human resources and corporate strategist. I trust this will be an added advantage edge to have.

    I appreciate you taking the time to answer my queries. Pls share your thoughts about the Master of Psychology program offered by the Open University of Malaysia as well.

    • Hi AJ,
      The difference between a Masters in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in Psychology is that a Masters in Clinical Psychology in Malaysia will allow you to work clinically with people. It will teach you to use talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help people in psychological distress. A Masters in Psychology is an academic course which is likely to focus more on theory and research (depending on the course). It would prepare you to be an academic. Both could call themselves a psychologist as that’s the umbrella term and it’s not protected. But only one (the clinical psychologist) could claim to work with individuals, couples or families to try to help with psychological distress. If you worked in a university then you could call yourself a Research Psychologist or a Psychology Lecturer. If you worked in HR you’d probably say that you are an HR specialist with a background in psychology.

      I don’t know much about the Open University Course in Malaysia – if you contact the course perhaps they can put you in touch with some alumni of the course so you can hear how they found it and whether they found it helpful in their careers.

      I hope that helps.

  6. Hello there. Do you have any thoughts or experience with University of Malaya’s (UM) Master of Professional Counselling course? There is not much information I can find online.

    • Hi Ryan, unfortunately I don’t know anything about the counselling course at UM. The only counselling course in Malaysia that I have any familiarity with is the one at Monash. It’s a good course but it’s quite expensive in comparison to other courses in Malaysia.

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