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What’s the differences between mental health professionals?

Posted by Erin Fischer on

What’s the differences between mental health professionals?

Navigating the medical system when it comes to getting help for your mental health can be difficult especially when there are so many medical professionals out there that can help you, where do you begin? Are psychologists and psychiatrists the same? What about counsellors?  Who should I see first?

So, the aim of this post is to break it all down in easy-to-understand language so that you can work out where to begin in your mental health journey and get an idea of the professionals out there who can help.

Let’s start at the beginning. When should you get help? That is up to you.

and your feelings, it’s completely normal for your mental health to be up and down and for life to impact how you feel. However, if you find your mental health is impacting your day-to-day life then it might be a good idea to speak to someone about it.

So who can you see about your mental health and what are the differences between them?

General Practitioner (GP) – this is your average everyday doctor, the person you go to when you’re feeling under the weather (both physically and mentally). They have a degree in medicine followed by GP training which means they can help you navigate the day-to-day stuff. All GPs are trained in basic mental health, but some GPs may have an interest in mental health. When you go see your GP about your mental illness, they will talk to you in detail to make sure they can recommend the right treatment for you. Depending on what they feel is right for you they may prescribe you anti-depressants or refer you to a psychologist under a mental health plan (more on that next week). However, if they feel that you need additional support, they will refer you to a psychiatrist (who they will then work closely with to make sure you receive the best possible care).

All GPs have different ways of treating mental illnesses so it is important to find one you can trust and be honest when attending a session.

Psychiatrist – this a doctor who specialises in mental illness, so they have done their residency followed by studies in psychiatry. As they are a specialist, they can diagnose more complex mental illnesses and prescribe you with a wider range of antidepressants along with performing light therapy and brain stimulation.  They are also able to treat you with talking therapies much like a psychologist would.

Therapist (mental health) – this is a broad term that covers anyone professional from counsellors to psychologists to social workers. Anyone who can help you with your mental health comes under this umbrella.

General Psychologist – a general psychologist is someone who has studied psychology at university and then completed a masters or honours. They are trained in the science of how people think and looking at the bigger picture. A general psychologist doesn’t have a specific area of interest and can provide input into a variety of areas such as mental health, forensic, education, public policy and drug and alcohol. A general psychologist will be able help you work through your concerns with talking therapy. They are like a psychiatrist, but the biggest difference is that they can’t prescribe medication as they aren’t a doctor. You can go see a psychologist without a referral from a doctor however to get seen under a mental health plan you will need a referral from your doctor.

Clinical psychologist – this is a psychologist who on top of their standard training has more in-depth training into mental illness. They are experts in the field of mental health, so they can deal with more severe diagnoses and targeted therapies.

Counsellor – unlike a psychologist they take a person-based treatment approach rather than a behavioural science-based treatment approach. They work with people on setting goals and helping them achieve them rather than assessing you first and then working out what would be best for you. Unlike psychologists they are unable to diagnose mental illness and tend to work with people with mild to moderate mental illnesses. Something to note is that there are currently no regulations regarding counsellors so anyone can call themselves one regardless of how much or how little training they have.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to finding the right mental health professional for you. As the brain is so complex it may take a while to find the treatment that works for you and you may need to see multiple people to help you. It may be one treatment or a mix of treatments at the end of the day you do what’s best for you.

Feel free to drop by, just say, Hey Erin in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.



About Erin Fischer

Am the qualified mental health professional at Barty Single Origin. Write topical pieces with a focus on mental health. Always available on chat, Passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and letting people know it's A-OK to be not OK.


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