• Shaun McMahon

Which Mental Health Professional Should I See? A Mental Health Buyers Guide

There are many different kinds of mental health professionals. It can be hard to know if you need therapy, and what kind of therapist you should see. This guide is written by a therapist in Melbourne, Australia, and so you may encounter exceptions or differences in other parts of Australia or the World.



What Do Mental Health Professionals Have In Common?


While there are some key differences between mental health professionals, it’s worth noting that they all (perhaps with the exception of psychiatrists) can fulfill the role of ‘talking professional’. This means that they primarily assist you in improving your mental health through talking about your problems. They might incorporate other means to help you, such as prescribed medication, using movement or body work in the session, or inviting you to draw or use materials to express your challenges.


The Differences Between Mental Health Professionals


There are many different kinds of mental health professionals, and it’s important to know which one is right for you when looking for a therapist in Melbourne. It should be said that what you will find below are generalizations, and there are many exceptions because of the crossover in professions, as well as the influence they have upon each other.


Counselor


For a long time, the word counselor has been a general term for anyone who works as a talking professional helping people to overcome their challenges. It is now, however, easily confused with Psychologist and Psychotherapist, which differ from each other in minute but important ways. In today’s world, a useful way to think about counselors is that they often have a specialization that means they work with a specific problem or group of people.


For example, grief counselors, gambling and drug addiction counselors, couples counselors. Counselors typically provide assistance over a short period of time, helping clients to reach their own resolutions and find strategies to address their challenges. Counselors can either complete a Bachelor’s degree in counseling, or a postgraduate degree following a Bachelor degree in an unrelated field.


Psychologist


The term ‘psychologist’ has become synonymous with the word ‘therapist’ in Australia, and for most people the two are interchangeable. This is partly because psychologists make up 60% of Australia’s psychological workforce. However, there are important differences between psychologists and other mental health professionals, as well as the different kinds of psychologists.


Firstly, just because someone is studying ‘psychology’ does not mean they are a therapist. To be able to see clients, people with a degree in psychology need to go on to complete a postgraduate degree, and then undergo two years of supervision or further study. Clinical psychologists, who specialize in a particular area, must then go on to complete a further two years of study. Psychologists are required to be a member of the Australian Board of Psychology and as such the profession is heavily regulated.


Psychotherapist


The word psychotherapy is not commonly used in Australia compared to the USA, UK and Europe where it has slightly different meanings. Psychotherapy was the term coined by the most recognizable progenitor of the mental health field, Sigmund Frued, who was initially trained as a doctor. In Australia, psychotherapists do not require a medical degree, and because the field is not regulated by the government, the main educational requirement is a Bachelor’s degree in psychotherapy, followed by registration with PACFA or the ACA.


A helpful distinction between the two is to consider that, because of the heavy regulation, psychologists are much more focused on specific issues and using models they are trained in, mostly CBT, to treat these issues in a timely fashion. Psychotherapists are also equipped to help with these issues, but in general seek a deeper understanding of the problem and will often look to past experiences, including childhood, to clarify and resolve these issues.


Psychiatrist


Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who have then gone on to specialize in medicine of the mind. Their primary method of treating clients is through the prescription of mental health medication, something that only doctors are legally allowed to do. They often abide by the mental health disorders outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as the DSM-V.


These days Psychiatrists are often in high demand and so their sessions are typically limited to short blocks of time, making it difficult for them to spend time exploring problems with you to discover their root cause.


Which Mental Health Professional Should I See?


The kind of mental health professional you should see depends largely on the kind of problems you are seeking help for. The most common reasons people seek therapy are for anxiety, depression, or relationship issues. Most mental health professionals are able to assist with these matters.


However, you might be facing more specific issues which require a specialist approach, such as assistance with grief and loss, treatment for personality disorders or eating disorders, or medication based approaches. Hopefully this guide has helped you narrow down the kind of help you’re looking for.


Shaun McMahon is a Melbourne based psychotherapist who works with clients struggling with a range of challenges including anxiety, depression and relationship issues. He conducts sessions both in person and online, and is currently accepting new clients. If you are interested in seeking support, you can arrange a FREE 15 minute consultation with Shaun by clicking here.