Mental Health Professionals

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

Reaching out for professional support is a critical step in recovering from depression.

There are a few different professionals who are qualified to provide mental health services. This page discusses who these professionals are, as well as how to access their services.

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

A professional can provide talk therapy (formally referred to as psychotherapy) and/or medication, which are the two most well-studied and research-backed treatment options for depression.

While there are a few different professionals who are qualified to provide therapy, only a physician (i.e., a medical doctor like a family doctor or psychiatrist) is able to prescribe medication. In some jurisdictions, mental health nurse practitioners or clinical psychologists can prescribe medications, but such services are not commonly available.[1]

Family Doctors

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

Family doctors generally do not have the same level of specialized mental health training as the mental health professionals listed below, but they play an important supportive role during one’s recovery journey.

  • Able to provide: Assessment, diagnosis, medication (if deemed appropriate), can function as main point of contact with other mental health professionals and resources
  • Training and education: Doctor of Medicine, plus specialized training in family medicine

Therapists

There are a few different professionals who are trained to provide therapy (formally referred to as psychotherapy), and may be referred to as ‘therapists’ or ‘counsellors.’ Unfortunately, these two terms are not formally regulated and can 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 help us (and not hurt us).

All the mental health service providers listed below will have:

  • Specialized mental health training
  • Expertise to help us delve into and address factors contributing to the challenges we’re contending with
  • 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.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have received extensive training in understanding and treating a variety of mental health illnesses. They have been trained to provide medication and therapy services to treat mental health challenges – the only health professional able to do so. That being said, not all psychiatrists provide both types of service – some focus on providing medications only while others focus on providing therapy services.

Seeing a psychiatrist usually requires a referral from a family doctor (or emergency doctor in case of a crisis).

  • Able to provide: Assessments, diagnosis, and medication prescription and management, and therapy.
  • Training and education: Doctor of Medicine, plus long-term specialized training in psychiatry

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists also receive extensive training focused on understanding and treating a wide variety of mental health issues. Unlike a family physician or psychiatrist (except in a few limited locations/circumstances), clinical psychologists do not provide or manage prescriptions, and instead focus on improving clients’ mental health through therapy.

  • Able to provide: Assessments, diagnosis, and therapy
  • Training and education: Doctorate in Clinical Psychology[2]

Counsellors

“Counsellor” is a broad term referring to someone who has received some specialized mental health training, though far less than that of psychiatrists or clinical psychologists. Counsellors are generally trained to help support people through various difficult situations using therapy.

As mentioned earlier, anyone can use the term ‘counsellor,’ so it’s important to consider the person’s level of education and experience before seeing them.

  • Able to provide: Talk therapy
  • Training and education: Master’s level training in counselling psychology or related 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 able to connect us with resources to address issues like poverty, unemployment, housing, and domestic violence. Some social work education programs train people to provide therapy, but most don’t.

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

HOW TO ACCESS MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS

Because of differences in services offered by these various health professionals, you may see one individual for all your needs (e.g., a psychiatrist), or end up working with more than one professional. For example, it’s not uncommon to see a clinical psychologist for therapy, in addition to a psychiatrist who prescribes and manages 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.

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 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 (typically provided by a family doctor) and discuss your options.


Private Practice

Many mental health service providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, and clinical social workers, 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 fields. Private practices tend to be more readily available than publicly run services and often offer options for both short- and long-term treatment.


Hospital Outpatient Services

Some hospitals may also have mental health outpatient services specializing in the treatment of various mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety. 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. Many outpatient services also offer therapy on a short-term basis.


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 access therapy services if you’re a student 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. Check your company’s website or ask your human resources department for information about whether your employer has an EAP.


Online therapy

While most therapy services are provided in person, therapy can also be accessed virtually, which is a growing trend that was largely prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual therapy can be especially convenient 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 many self-help strategies we can use to help in our recovery from depression, as outlined in our Tips and Skills section.

It may take time to connect with a mental health professional, but don’t give up – you are worth the time it takes.


Treatment Costs

Cost is one of the biggest barriers keeping men from seeking support. But getting mental health treatment is arguably one of the most important investments that you can make for yourself. It is as much of an investment in our health as seeing a doctor for cancer treatment or getting a root canal at the dentist. Although these procedures are costly, 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 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

In Canada and the U.K., fees to see a psychiatrist (regardless of whether they are in private practice or work at a hospital) are covered by public health plans if you are referred by a physician.

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 psychologist but not with a clinical social worker).


Need help getting started?

If you’re not sure of how or where to start your recovery, submit a request for a 30-minute virtual consult with Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, the founder of HeadsUpGuys.

  • Dr. Ogrodniczuk is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and one of the world’s leading experts on men’s mental health.

Consults are intended to be a one-time service to help you scope out a recovery game plan.


Footnotes

  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. 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.

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024