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STRONGER TOGETHER: Know your mental health professionals

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Last updated: 16/10/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the different types of mental health professionals and the services they offer.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Life can throw some significant challenges and hurdles at us, so getting access to the mental health support and help that we need, when we need it, is important.

Yet when it comes to getting help, who do I need to see?

This is a common question and can be frustrating and overwhelming for many of us. However, the bigger concern is that it is even tricker to navigate if you are experiencing mental health symptoms and have not asked for help before.

In today’s column, I therefore wanted to demystify the different types of mental health professionals and the services that they can provide. It can be challenging to understand the nuances between the various types of mental health professionals, but it’s essential to know what each one does so that you can get the help you need. Let’s dive in!

Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. They can prescribe medication and provide therapy.

Psychotherapists are trained in a range of therapies to improve mental wellbeing, including shifting unhelpful patterns of thinking, or overcoming emotional challenges. They provide therapy and counselling, but they cannot prescribe medication.

Psychologists are degree-qualified and trained to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses. Clinical psychologists have a Masters or Doctorate and focus on the diagnosis and treatment of more complex mental health conditions. They both provide therapy and counselling, but they cannot prescribe medication.

Counsellors are generally diploma qualified, and are trained to help people with personal problems such as relationship issues, trauma, or grief. They provide counselling and support, but they cannot assess, diagnose, or treat mental illness and they cannot prescribe medication.

Peer workers are people who have lived experience with mental illness, and ideally are qualified with a Certificate IV Peer Work. They provide support and guidance to others who are going through similar experiences, including role modelling behaviour. They can also link you with higher level clinical supports if needed.

Support workers are qualified at minimum through a Certificate III in Support and provide emotional support to individuals experiencing mental health concerns.

Now, what about the Mental Health Care Plan that I have heard people talking about?

To obtain one, you'll start by visiting your GP. They will assess your mental health needs and, if necessary, refer you to the appropriate mental health professional. Your GP will work collaboratively with you to create a personalised Mental Health Care Plan. This plan typically includes a specific number of subsidised sessions with mental health professionals, and may involve psychologists, counsellors, or psychiatrists, (or maybe even a mix) depending on your individual needs.

As Mental Health Month unfolds, remember that seeking help is a commendable (and courageous) step toward a healthier, happier you. Mental health professionals are here to support you, and they recognise that your wellbeing is a priority.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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