Mental Health Professionals

Guidance from a trained mental health professional can help you navigate your path to recovery.

Reaching out for professional support is an important step in recovering from depression. Tackling any issue head-on is a sign of strength.

There are a few different professionals who are qualified to provide mental health services. This page lays out the roles different mental health professionals may play in recovery, as well as how to access these professionals. Jump to content on:

Depression is a serious illness, so we want to get help from a qualified professional, just like seeing a physiotherapist to rehab a bad injury, or a urologist or medical oncologist to treat testicular cancer.

A professional can provide talk therapy and medication, which are the two most well-studied and research-backed treatment options for depression.

There are many different professionals who are qualified to practice talk therapy, but only a few that are able to prescribe medication – the most common being family doctors, psychiatrists, and depending on their expertise, mental health nurse practitioners (which mental health professionals can prescribe medications may differ slightly based on location).[1]

Family Doctors

Seeing a family doctor is a great first step and they will be better able to help us decide what level of support we need and how to access local resources. See our guide on Consulting a Family Doctor.

Family doctors generally do not have the same level of specialized training, nor are they set up to provide talk therapy, as the mental health professionals listed below.

  • Able to Provide: Assessment, diagnosis, medication (if deemed appropriate), can function as main point of contact with other mental health professionals and resources

Talk Therapists

Many different professionals are trained to administer talk therapy, and may be referred to as ‘therapists’ or ‘counsellors’. Unfortunately, these two terms are not title protected and can legally be used by anyone, even without any or limited training.

This is why it’s crucial to check a therapist’s education and make sure they have the training to be best positioned to help us.

All the mental health service providers listed below will have:

  • Extensive training specializing in mental health
  • Expertise to help us delve into and address factors contributing to our mental health, including common stressors and underlying issues
  • More time than a family doctor can devote to supporting us, and they can meet with us regularly on a short- or long-term basis.


Counsellors are generally the most widely available providers of talk therapy.  Counsellors have the broadest client base, working with people in all areas of life, for example helping athletes manage stress, couples repair relationships, or providing individual talk therapy to people with anxiety and depression.

This includes professional counsellors, marriage and family therapists, as well as therapists working in more specialized fields such as substance abuse counselling and art therapy.

Note, as mentioned above, anyone can use the term ‘counsellor,’ so it’s important to make sure a counsellor has the proper training and experience before seeing them.

  • Able to provide: Talk therapy
  • Training and education: Master’s level training in counselling psychology or relevant discipline (or level 4 training program in the UK)[2]

Clinical Social Workers

Social work usually takes a broader look at mental health in the context of social, cultural, and economic factors. Social workers are more ‘embedded’ in their communities and may be better able to connect us with resources to address issues like poverty, unemployment, housing, and domestic violence.

  • Able to provide: Talk therapy, point of contact for community and support resources[3]
  • Training and education: Master of Social Work (MSW)

Clinical/Counselling Psychologists

Though there is much overlap, counseling psychologists focus on common stresses and issues we may face in our daily lives, while clinical psychologists focus on more specific mental health issues. They will both have expertise in a wide range of talk therapy approaches and techniques (though they may have a specific area of expertise or focus).

Unlike a family physician or psychiatrist (except in a few limited locations/circumstances) clinical psychologists do not provide or manage prescriptions, and focus on improving clients’ mental health through talk therapy.

  • Able to provide: More specialized talk therapy for those with mental health issues, may also provide: assessments and diagnosis. [4]
  • Training and education: Doctorate in Psychology (eg. training to be a Counsellor plus years of additional study and practice) [5]


Psychiatrists tend to work with clients who have more severe, complex, or multiple diagnoses (severe depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, overlapping health issues) and primarily focus on prescribing and monitoring patients’ medication(s), but in some cases also provide psychotherapy.

Psychiatrists most often work in hospitals and seeing one usually requires a referral from a family doctor or emergency room.

  • Able to provide: Assessments, diagnosis, and medication prescription and management.
  • Training and education: Doctor of Medicine, plus training in pharmacology (medication) and psychiatry (the science of mental illness diagnosis, treatment, and prevention)

Psychiatric Nurses and Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who specialize in mental health.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have received advanced training (master’s or doctorate degree in nursing) who can perform tasks which are typically performed by medical doctors, including prescribing medication and diagnosing patients.

Both of these mental health professionals work in hospitals and typically require a referral from a family doctor or emergency room to meet with.

  • Able to provide: Depending on location and level of education/training they can provide: Assessment, diagnosis, and medication prescription and management
  • Training and education: Associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, plus additional training in mental health, master’s or doctorate degree


Because of differences in individual services offered by different professionals, you may see one individual for all your needs, or end up working with multiple professionals. For example, it’s not uncommon to see a counsellor for talk therapy, in addition to a psychiatrist who prescribes medication.

Local health lines

Depending on location you may also be able to access non-urgent health or help lines which are typically operated by nurses and provide a quick, free, and informal way to access general health information (including mental health) and learn about resources in your community.

These numbers vary more based on location and may be provided by your province/state or country. To find a healthline in your area try searching by your state or province name and “nurse help line.”

Through a Family Doctor

Family doctors can help with referrals to access different mental health professionals and other local mental health resources.

Community mental health centres

These centres can be a good way to get in touch with a professional for low-cost services. Services are typically covered by public and private health plans. Often there is an intake process during which a mental health professional will review your referral and discuss your options. This may include individual or group therapy, or recommendations for other local mental health services.

Private Practice

Many mental health service providers, including psychologists, counsellors, clinical social workers, and even psychiatrists, work independently in privately run clinics, referred to as private practice.

Private practices can be run by a single mental health professional, or a team of professionals from a variety of mental health related fields (e.g. psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists working in one clinic). Private practices tend to be more readily available than publicly run services and often offer options for both short- and long-term treatment, but typically cost more.

Hospital Outpatient Services

Some hospitals may also have Outpatient Services specializing in depression and mood disorders. These services tend to include single-visit assessments or short-term case management, offering a way to get a diagnosis, receive medication (if deemed necessary), and be connected with additional services.

Hospital Inpatient Services

Inpatient services (accessed through Urgent Care or the Emergency Room) are an option if you are having thoughts of suicide and think you may act on them.

Inpatient services will provide around-the-clock care and connect you with mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and social workers for the duration of your stay. They can also refer you to additional support once you are discharged.

Through Schools (For students)

Student health services or university counselling centres are great places to start and may be able to provide or connect you with additional resources.

Through Work (For employees with EAP)

Your employer might have an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), which is a free, confidential, short-term, counselling service for employees with personal difficulties that affect their work performance. Check your company’s website or ask your human resources department for information about whether your employer has an EAP.

Online therapy

(A.K.A. telehealth, e-counselling, or remote therapy) has become increasingly popular in recent years making it easier than ever to try therapy, especially for people living in remote areas.

To learn more, see our Overview of Online Therapy.

No matter how we choose to access mental health support, waitlists are common. It can be discouraging to finally reach out to a mental health service provider just to learn we need to wait weeks or even months to see them. In the meantime there are still many important steps we can take and things we can work on, as outlined in our Tips and Skills section.

It may take time to connect with a mental health professional, but it’s worth the wait.

Treatment Costs

Cost is one of the biggest barriers keeping men from seeking support. But getting mental health treatment is as much an investment in our health as seeing a doctor for cancer treatment or getting a root canal at the dentist. Although these procedures may be costly at times, it’s important to pursue them – the same is true with our mental health.

For instance, seeing a therapist may seem expensive in the short term, but if doing so helps us improve our health so we can keep our job (or not have to go on disability), it will save us money in the long term while also improving our quality of life.

Even if our budget is tight, there are still ways to receive support.

  • Many therapists work in community agencies that provide free or low-cost services.
  • Some private therapists offer ‘sliding scale’ fees, which are based on a client’s individual ability to pay. If you are concerned about affording treatment, you can ask therapists whether they offer sliding scale fees prior to booking your first appointment.

In general, fees to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist are higher than those for master’s level clinicians, reflecting these experts’ higher level of training and specialized skill sets.

Health Coverage

Therapists in private practice are not typically covered by public health plans (fee information should be listed on the websites or you may have to contact them to ask for their rates).

Certain student, employer, and private health plans may cover a limited number of private therapy sessions. If this is the case, it’s important to read the fine print of your insurance plan, as some plans only offer coverage for therapists with specific training (e.g. they may cover therapy with a clinical counselor but not with a clinical social worker).

In Canada and the U.K., fees to see a psychiatrist are covered by public health plans if you are referred by a physician. Seeing a psychiatrist in other regions, or seeing a psychiatrist who works in private practice may require you to pay out of pocket.

Need help getting started?

Submit a request for a consult with Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, the founder and man behind HeadsUpGuys, to set up a 30 minute virtual call.

  • Dr. Ogrodniczuk is a registered Clinical Psychologist and a Professor of Psychiatry. Dr. Ogrodniczuk has over 20 years of experience talking to and consulting with men about mental health issues.

Consults are intended to be a one or two-time service to help us sort out what’s going on in our lives, and get a sense of where to start, so we can better focus our energy towards fighting depression.


  1. Relevant professional regulatory bodies vary by location, and may occur at the state/provincial level (e.g. the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors in British Columbia) or the federal level (e.g. the National Association of Social Workers in the U.S.). Some common designations indicating such membership include: LPC (licensed professional counselor), LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist), LMHC (licensed mental health counselor), RP (registered psychotherapist), RCC (registered clinical counsellor), LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), and RSW (registered social worker).
  2. In the U.K. and Australia, this level of training may differ slightly due to differences in education systems.
  3. In some cases, clinical social workers can conduct assessments and diagnose mental illness, but this varies by state/province.
  4. The types of mental health assessment used will vary by profession. Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses/nurse practitioners will conduct psychiatric evaluations, which are medical in nature and examine both physical and mental health. Clinical psychologists conduct psychological assessments, which are unique in that they use standardized testing to compare a patient’s symptoms to a peer group, which offers clarity about the degree of dysfunction they are facing. Some clinical social workers and master’s level therapists may be trained to administer certain assessments, but they are typically more limited in scope.
  5. A doctorate degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D., D.Clin.Psych.) is required to practice as a clinical psychologist in most of North America and the United Kingdom, although there are exceptions in certain regions allowing psychologists to become licensed with a master’s degree.