Understanding the Roles of Mental Health Professionals

Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Therapists/Counselors are all integral to mental health service provision. Depending on the nature of the mental illness, an individual may be best served by working with a combination of professionals, as medicinal treatment may be required in addition to therapy. In most cases, individuals can start by seeking assistance from one type of professional and then be referred to another professional as and when required.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose psychiatric conditions and are the only professionals licensed to prescribe medication for mental health illnesses. Some psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy. They also collaborate with other medical doctors, such as neurologists, to provide the best medical care on a case-by-case basis.

Psychologists tend to have completed doctoral programs, but in a non-medical setting. That is, they specialize in administering diagnostic testing for mental health but are not licensed to prescribe medications. Psychologists tend to focus on clinical practice and research, with specific training in psychological diagnosis and assessment, and a wide array of psychotherapies.

Therapists and Counselors are commonly used interchangeably, however, ‘therapists’ may also include professionals with advanced training in psychology and psychiatry. They typically focus on providing psychotherapy, or counseling individuals, families, couples or groups in a variety of settings. Counselors must be licensed to undertake psychotherapy treatments, cannot prescribe medication, and often work in conjunction with psychiatrists and psychologists.