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Different types of Mental Health Professionals

If you or someone you know is seeking treatment for the first time and has never seen a mental health provider before, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the different choices and have a lot of questions as to the differences between each provider.

In this article, we outline the differences between mental health professionals so that you can have some clarity in how to find someone who will best meet your needs.

The information provided in this article is general and will likely apply to most Western countries and some developing nations. However, in this article, we will focus on outlining the differences between mental health providers in Australia specifically.

What you need to know about Mental Health Professions?

Addressing mental health needs is a concept that demands a diversity of support and treatment options. Different types of specialists provide all kinds of mental health treatments. They all play an important role in assessing or treating psychological and psychiatric conditions and illnesses.

You can find mental health professionals at outpatient facilities such as community mental health clinics, education institutions, and private practises.

Inpatient facilities, such as general hospitals and psychiatric facilities also employ these professionals. The practitioner’s education and specialisation influence the services which may be provided.


Psychiatrists are medical professionals who need to have earned a Medicine Degree(MD) as well as have completed on the job training in a psychiatric hospital and completed specialist training. They are able to diagnose mental health conditions, as well as prescribe and monitor medications.

Psychiatrists frequently lead teams of other mental health professionals. They collaborate to establish how to be treated or who is included. To see a psychiatrist, you may have to first obtain a referral from your general practitioner (GP).

They use a variety of treatment approaches to treat individuals with mental health conditions such as counselling, psychotherapy, and medication. They are able to admit people to hospitals if required. You would generally need to see a psychiatrist if your condition is severe, has lasted for a long time, or you need a diagnosis or medication.


Psychologists are trained in human behaviour. The difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that the latter has a medicine degree and can prescribe medication.

Psychologists study behaviours, emotions, and thoughts. They have completed a minimum of 6 years of study and work experience and are registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Psychologists are trained to conduct clinical interviews, psychological examinations, and testing to assess a person’s mental health. Clinical psychologists in Australia can diagnose as well as provide individual and group therapy.

It is possible to consult a psychologist, however, in most cases, a referral for a psychologist near you is made by your GP for a mental health care plan. Because GPs generally refer only to psychologists, you may have to advocate for yourself if you decide you would like to work with a mental health provider other than a psychologist.

Social Workers

Social workers with a masters degree and specialized training have the knowledge and skills to be able to practice as clinical social workers and provide counselling.

Social workers provide mental health support to individuals from a holistic approach which means they focus on treating the entire person, not just their mind. Social workers might complete what is called a biopsychosocial assessment which gives them an idea of the clients biological, psychological, and social history.

Social workers look at the individual’s social and physical environment because this can have a big impact on a person’s mental wellbeing.

Social workers practice using a lens that allows them to consider systemic issues that play a role in the clients life such as systemic racism, gender pay gap, discrimination against immigrants, low socioeconomic status, etc.

They do not diagnose or prescribe medicine but can offer case management and advocacy services. They may also deal with societal issues such as substance abuse, housing, and unemployment.

Social workers are often involved in interpersonal conflict including domestic violence or child abuse and may be the right professional for you if you gew up around these issues as well since they have a broader understanding of the role that your environment plays on your mental health.


Psychotherapy is a group of therapies. The types of psychotherapy include Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) , interpersonal therapy, Supportive Psychotherapy, Family Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Different types of mental health professionals use psychotherapy in treating mental health conditions and these types of therapies can also be used to help someone struggling with coping skills and unwanted thoughts.

Therapist or Counsellor

So what’s the difference between a therapist and a counsellor? Depending on the setting, the terms counsellor or therapist may be used interchangeably to describe someone who offers counselling services.

A counsellor or therapist uses tools and techniques to help clients build better coping skills, improve their relationships, process grief or anger, learn to manage their anxiety or other emotions, and more. Therapy or counselling is typically shorter than psychotherapy.

In Australia, it is important to look at the qualifications of a therapist or counsellor as it is not regulated in the same way as psychiatrists and psychologists in the country and unfortunately anyone can call themselves a counsellor even without any training.

This does not mean that you won’t find a qualified counsellor who is amazing at their job and can help you.

A counsellor or therapist may be a good fit for you if you are looking for a more personal approach rather than a clinical one. If you are looking for assessments, diagnosis, medication, and clinical treatment style, a psychologist might be a better fit.

The difference between a psychologist and a counsellor is that a psychologist can be very clinical, whereas a counsellor or social worker may take a more holistic and well-rounded approach.

If however, you are looking for someone who can listen and help you without putting you in a box, it may be a good idea to seek help from a counsellor or therapist.


Family and Marriage Therapy

It focuses on standard difficulties that might arise in families and married couples. This type of specialty can be done on an individual basis or for couples or families.

Addiction Therapy

The goal is to help those who have addictions, which commonly involve drug abuse or gambling issues, but can also include sexual addictions or eating disorders.

Religious or Pastoral Therapy

Their major concentration is on spiritual crises, as well as, marital and family therapy, and emotional and mental health issues; all done within a spiritual context. Pastoral counselling is done in churches, one-on-one, in groups, or in couple settings.

Art Therapy

This approach entails employing creativity in forms like painting, sculpting, and writing to investigate and treat depression, physical conditions, traumatic events in the past, and addiction. Art therapy might be a good idea for you if you struggle to express yourself through words.

Trauma informed Therapy

Trauma therapy is a type of therapy that can assist you in dealing with the emotional response to a traumatic incident.

Reaching out for help

Finding a therapist who is a good fit can be challenging and overwhelming, but once you begin your healing journey you will realize it was worth the effort it required.

If you’re looking for a mental health service, you have a lot of possibilities. Finding a therapist near you can be a good start, but now with the technology we have at our fingertips, you may realize you want to try exploring the benefits of online counselling as well.

If you have been looking for a trauma-informed therapist Global Citizen Therapy can help. We provide a safe environment in which you can begin the deep inner healing work that you require.

Book an appointment here.