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Learn about mental health professionals and the differences between doctors, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, youth workers and social workers.

This can help if:

  • you need help, but you’re not sure about the type of mental health professional to see
  • you want more information about what different mental health professionals do
  • you want to know how to get help from a mental health professional.
Girl talking to counsellor

What are mental health professionals?

People study and train for years in different areas of mental health so that they can help you work through difficult stuff that might be going on in your life. Here’s a few of the main types of mental health professionals.

Doctors or general practitioners (GP) are usually the first point of contact for seeking any type of help. A GP can diagnose health problems, as well as recognise symptoms of mental health difficulties that you might be experiencing. A GP can refer you to a mental health professional if you need one. They can also write a Mental Health Treatment Plan for you, so that you can see other mental health professionals under Medicare where possible. (This means you pay less, or maybe nothing at all, for your mental health treatment.)

Counsellors are your advice ‘all-rounders’. Counsellors will listen while you describe what’s going on for you, and help you figure out some options to deal with your issues. They can also help you find a more helpful way of thinking about or tackling your problems. They’re good people to talk to if you need to vent, and they can help you look at some possible solutions.

Psychologists and clinical psychologists treat mental health disorders. Psychologists have specialist training in diagnosing, treating and preventing mental health problems so that you can get on with your life. They often specialise in different areas, and in different approaches, so sometimes you may have to meet a few practitioners before you find the right person for your situation. Clinical psychologists are psychologists who work in hospitals.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with specialised training in mental health issues. They treat mental health disorders such as depression, severe anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They can decide whether you need medication as part of your treatment, and are able to prescribe it for you.

Youth workers are your one-stop-shop for figuring out your life. They’re specially trained in the practical life issues young people face, such as school and education, sexual health, finding accommodation, drug use problems, being a young parent – you name it. Think of them as a life coach: they’re there to help you manage everyday life situations and to stay on track.

Social workers provide information, advice and help in dealing with specific practical issues, such as linking you up with financial services, dealing with child-related services, finding housing, attending important appointments, and so on. They usually work in or through community centres, hospitals, Centrelink, housing services and the court system.

How do you find a mental health professional?

Not sure how to find the person you need to talk to? A visit to your GP is always a great place to start. You can also try ReachOut NextStep to receive anonymous and personalised support options.

What can I do now?

  • Get personalised support with ReachOut NextStep.
  • Make an appointment with your GP and tell them what’s on your mind.
  • Read about confidentiality and what it means for you.