Types of mental health professionals
Understanding mental health

Types of mental health professionals

There are five different types of experts in the field of mental health. Find out what each of them specialize in.

Aditi Surendra

You’ve decided to seek help for a mental health issue. However, deciding whom to consult can cause some confusion; do you need to see a psychiatrist or will a counselor do?

There are different kinds of experts who specialize in different areas of mental health. Each of them plays a key role in identifying and treating psychological and psychiatric health issues. The different types of mental health professionals are:

  • Psychiatrists

  • Clinical psychologists

  • Counselors

  • Psychiatric social workers

  • Psychiatric nurses

Here is a brief description about each expert and their area of proficiency.

Psychiatrist

What is psychiatry?

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with assessing, diagnosing, treating, and managing various mental disorders which affect emotion, cognition, and behavior. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in psychiatry; they have completed an MD (Doctor of Medicine) in psychiatry after an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) course.

Who is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a person who has completed an MBBS and gone on to study psychiatric medicine. They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. During their specialized training, psychiatrists study the brain's functions and the complex relationship between the body and brain. They are qualified to distinguish between physical and psychological causes of mental and physical distress.

They are also the only type of mental health professional who are licensed to prescribe and monitor medication.

Psychologist

What is psychology?

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. All aspects of thoughts, feelings and emotions that motivate our actions are scientifically evaluated through various assessments and tests. Psychological knowledge is applied to understanding and solving problems in different spheres of human activity, and is also used in the assessment and treatment of mental health issues.

Who is a psychologist?

Psychologists have a degree in psychology and are experts in human behavior. They use scientific methods to study the factors that influence people's thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and actions.

They use evidence-based strategies and interventions to help people overcome challenges and cope with life issues such as

  • Relationship problems

  • Parenting issues

  • Challenges in adolescence

  • Lifestyle effects on health

  • Chronic illness

Psychologists use their clinical skills to work with people who have mental health issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, panic disorder and substance abuse.

Counselor

What is counseling?

Counseling is a type of applied psychology that focuses on helping people resolve emotional, behavioral or social problems arising from various life situations. This could include issues at the workplace, school or college, and conflict within the family.

Counseling uses various structured processes⁠—either through directive or non-directive guidance⁠—for the person to make rational decisions. Counseling work is completely confidential.

Counseling focuses on the following:

  • Resolving normal or moderate issues arising due to life events and other stressors rather than serious mental health issues

  • Understanding the thought process, beliefs, and emotions, which in turn lead to action

  • Giving importance to current events rather than past events

  • Developing creativity, self-expression, assertiveness for one's own needs

  • Improving conscious, rational thinking, and emphasizing on positive response to life situations

Who is a counselor?

Counselors can have very varied lengths of training, from a year long intensive training to a few months by correspondence. A counselor is trained in the art of listening and has skills to help a person analyze their problems and find a solution. Counselors deal with various issues that are as broad and varied as those undertaken by psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

If the counselor observes that counseling isn't addressing the person's needs because the underlying condition is severe and may need other interventions, they refer the person to a more qualified mental health expert for diagnosis, treatment, therapy, or medication, as the case may be.

Psychiatric social worker

Psychiatric social workers are mental health professionals trained to help patients find solutions to many life and social issues that come with mental illness. A patient's relationships, career, and quality of life are significantly affected due to the illness; and this can be a very difficult situation to navigate. Social workers help patients cope with these aspects of their lives.

Psychiatric social workers do the following as part of their regular duties:

  • Assess the patient's emotional, social, economic, and mental health needs

  • Educate the patient and family members about the illness and help them understand the patient's treatment plan

  • Evaluate the patient's socioeconomic status and look for community resources that would be useful for them

  • Facilitate individual, group, and family therapy sessions

  • Help improve communication between the patient, family members, and healthcare team

  • Create a plan to integrate patients back into the community

Overall, they play an important role in helping patients have a smooth transition back to family and community.

Psychiatric nurse

A psychiatric nurse is a mental health professional qualified to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with psychiatric disorders. They work with individuals, families, groups, and communities, and assess their mental health needs. They also help families understand the challenges of the mental illness and help them offer the appropriate care their loved one needs.

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