Who should I see?

GP, psychologist, counsellor, psychiatrist or psychotherapist?

and who is most likely to be able to help me with anxiety, depression, loss and grief or other difficulties life brings?

While these professions can mean different things in different countries, in Australia there are some clear lines between each of these professions – and some are not so clear.

PSYCHIATRISTS are medical specialists who diagnose and treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar and other mood disorders, major depression, and personality disorders. They will prescribe from a range of medications to help stabilise mental illnesses. Some do offer counselling —using psychotherapy — but mostly they diagnose, and create treatment processes which might include a referral for counselling.

Would I go to a pyschiatrist for typical life stresses and difficulties? No

PSYCHOLOGISTS are a very broad group: You’ll find some psychologists are clinical and counselling psychologists, and do provide counselling or mental health diagnoses. A far greater number do research and are consultants in many fields, especially in industry and organisational psychology. Tertiary teaching is a common role for psychologists.

Would I go to a psychologist for typical life stresses and difficulties? Maybe, if they have counselling qualifications.

GENERAL PRACTITIONERS may prescribe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs and providing referrals to counselling.

Would I go to a GP for typical life stresses and difficulties? Maybe. Some things that are physical illnesses can seem like mantal stressors. A check-up might help. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs may lift your mood enough for you to be able to act on your situation, but on their own drugs are a stop-gap; they don’t fix things.

GPs also provide referrals to counselling through the federal government Better Access Program, but always to a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker, and theoretically only when there is areal risk of serious mental illness developing.

COUNSELLORS provide counselling. There are around 400 different modalities (types or methods) of counselling. Some are very good, and some are just silly. Qualifications and experience vary a lot.

Would I go to a counsellor for typical life stresses and difficulties? Yes, but check their qualifications and make sure they’re a member of a professional association. If you’re uncomfortable, walk away.

PSYCHOTHERAPISTS are counsellors who tend to have a higher level of qualification (though not always) and broadly speaking, will go into counselling therapy in greater depth than some counsellors.

Would I go to a Psychotherapist for typical life stresses and difficulties? Yes, but check their qualifications and make sure they’re a member of a professional association. If you’re uncomfortable, walk away.

THERAPISTS provide counselling. Just another name for counsellors and psychotherapists.

SOCIAL WORKERS provide families and individuals with assistance with family problems and life problems in a practical, non-counselling way. They will recommend solutions and link you to services. They aren’t counsellors.

When it comes to choosing someone to help you, make your own enquiries, and make your own decisions.

Article by Peter Campbell, from Peter Campbell Counselling, Canberra.