Types of Mental Health Professionals

Types of Mental Health Professionals
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 31-03-2023

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A variety of mental health professionals offer help to people in distress. However, it is difficult to choose a particular mental health professional suited for one’s problems. Acquainting oneself training and the skill level of various mental health professionals can empower the person to make an appropriate decision.

There is no single “right” kind of therapist or therapy. Everyone can decide for themselves, the kind of therapy one is seeking and the therapist. No two counselors of the same training level can be compared easily, so the client must meet the professional and decide if the professional and the therapy provided are right for their needs. 

Now given that each country outlines professional guidelines uniquely, here is a list of various mental health professionals as defined, by the Indian rules and regulations. 

1. Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are licensed medical practitioners who have specialized training in the treatment of abnormal behavior and psychological problems. As physicians, they attain their degree in Medicine and Surgery (M.B.B.S), inclusive of internship, and are required to complete any one of the following courses: i. M.D. (post-graduation) in Psychiatry, ii. Diploma in Psychological Medicine (DPM), iii. Directorate of National Board (DNB) psychiatry examination As physicians, psychiatrists know human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and clinical pharmacology and can interpret laboratory reports. Psychiatrists can conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat medical and mental health disorders, and prescribe psychoactive medications. Since they are specialized in the treatment of psychological disorders with medication, they serve as the primary source of care for people suffering due to chemical dependency, and organic and biological causes. Some psychiatrists are also trained in psychotherapy, which allows them to provide psychological intervention. 

2. Clinical psychologists

Clinical psychologists are trained in psychosocial research, psychological assessments, and treatment of mental health conditions. Clinical psychologists are required to attain a registration certificate by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) upon completion of either an M.Phil course or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy. D.) in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists receive intensive training in psychodiagnostic assessments, understanding behavioural problems, and psychotherapy. Their training enables them to teach at the university level, conduct research, practice at mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, and establish private clinics. An important distinction between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medical treatments and clinical psychologists are not trained to do so. Psychologists and other mental health professionals often work closely with psychiatrists and consult with them when a client needs medication. 

3. Psychotherapists

Psychotherapists are M.A. level or Ph.D. level psychologists who undertake courses in which they master specific techniques and skills of therapy under close supervision. There are no licensing organizations for psychotherapists in India, currently. A psychotherapist acquires skills in any of the several contemporary therapeutic approaches such as client-centered therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, marriage, and family therapy, expressive art therapy and psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapy. These models are scientifically validated treatments, which are very collaborative and heavily rely on the relationship between an individual and the psychotherapist. 

4. Counselling psychologists or counsellors

Counseling psychologists or counselors work with people with daily life work or personal stressors. They are M.A., M.Phil., or Ph.D., level counselors who are trained to offer remedial, preventive, and developmental guidance. Counsellors provide help with adjustment issues, parenting styles, relationship difficulties, grief and stress management, career guidance, and coping skills. When compared with a clinical psychologist, a counselor devotes more of one’s energy to the issues of psychological health, personal growth, and attainment of wellness. Counsellors focus on people’s assets and strengths, positive health, and socio-environmental interactions rather than on psychopathology. Their areas of employment include schools, industries, corporate organizations, prisons, and detention centers. One of the major differences between psychotherapy and counselling is the number of sessions. Counseling tends to be short-term (12-15 sessions approx.) and psychotherapy happens over a long period of time. The depth of intervention provided by a counsellor is narrow and targeted on a particular issue, whereas a psychotherapist focuses on the wider aspects and identifies problem areas that are to be treated gradually. 

5. Psychiatric social workers

Psychiatric social workers help people in achieving an effective level of psychosocial functioning. They are mainly a part of the psychiatric team assessing a patient. They are required to complete an M.Phil or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) course, with a specialization in Psychiatric Social Work, and are required to register with RCI. During these courses, they are trained in the application of social work principles, psychosocial assessment of patients and their families, patient education, case management, and rehabilitation of the patients back into the family and community domains. They are responsible for developing treatment plans for the patient, explaining these treatment options to the patient and family, and monitoring the progress of the patient throughout treatment. In case, patients need personal, financial, or medical assistance, social workers refer them to the respective resources such as NGOs and assisted living centers. 

The focus of treatment is not only on the patient suffering from disturbances, but also on the family, work, and socio-cultural background that one belongs to. The intervention process is carried on to altering the beliefs and attitudes of the family, for successful rehabilitation to take place. 

According to Mental Health Atlas 2011, India has 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.05 psychologists, and 0.03 social workers per 100,000 population. These figures indicate that there is a shortage of mental health professionals in our country and practicing professionals are working intensively with a large number of clients.

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Butcher, J.N., Mineka, S., & Hooley, J.M. (2004). 

Abnormal Psychology. Fifteenth Edition. 

New York: Pearson Education, Inc. Morgan, C. T., King, R. A., Weisz, J.R., & Schopler J. (1993). 

Introduction to Psychology. Seventh edition. New Delhi: McGraw-Hill Education.

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