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Mental health specialists: who does what?


Mental wellbeing

There are a variety of different types of mental health professionals than can help you with diverse issues or help you advance in life. These different specialists have been taught to use numerous tools that help with certain issues that are related to our past, present or future.

This article aims to give you an overview of some of the different mental health professions and what they are best suited for. See below for an explanation for the following professions:

– Psychologist

– Psychiatrist

– Psychotherapist

– Clinical psychologist

– Counsellor

– Supervisor

– Coach



A psychologist is a specialist who has a relevant psychological degree from an accredited curriculum at a university.

The main aim in sessions is to provide advice to the person regarding any psychological issues, for example self-esteem problems, analysing relationships, dealing with assertiveness, etc. Psychologists can deal with mental health disorders, stress and anxiety.

A psychologist is not a medical doctor and does not prescribe medication.


A psychiatrist is a doctor who, in addition to basic medical training, has passed the relevant psychiatric residency.

Their main aim is to determine if a mental disorder is present, diagnose it and treat it with medication if the situation requires it. In order to do so, they usually conduct a clinical interview to get the patient’s medical history and may ask for a battery of tests to be conducted to determine the level of specific symptoms. Additionally, they deal with rehabilitation and prevention.

In compliance with the symptoms and diagnosis, the psychiatrist usually recommends psychotherapeutic intervention and/or prescribes relevant medication.


Psychotherapists have usually (but not always, depending on the therapy) finished their education in psychology or psychiatry, and have additionally completed a comprehensive specialised training in their respective field of therapy for example cognitive behavioural therapy, family psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy, etc.

In selecting a psychotherapist, it’s recommended to know their specialty to understand how and with what they could help with.

Clinical psychologist

A clinical psychologist has a relevant psychological degree and additional training in clinical psychology, which includes making a diagnosis and putting together a treatment plan with a medical doctor.

This specialist mainly deals with helping medical doctors in assessing, mitigating, treating and preventing mental and behavioural disorders, disability and at risk behaviours. This specialist is suited to identify if a person is suffering under mental illness by overseeing relevant tests and studies.

The term ‘clinical’ in this specialist’s name refers to the fact that the psychologist mostly deals with patients who have been diagnosed with a disorder. Patients need a referral from a psychiatrist to see a clinical psychologist.

A clinical psychologist is not a doctor with a medical degree, so they don’t have a licence to prescribe medications.


A counsellor in a work environment is someone who has an educational background as a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, social worker or something similar, that gives the specialist skills for professional counselling. In general, counselling is a short term process that is focusing on  a specific question or a problem in the past, present or future.


Supervisors assist their clients in reviewing and reflecting work that has already been done, to better learn from the past so as to achieve more success in the future. Real-life cases are used during supervision to analyse and see how things could be played out. Supervision can be, depending on the need and situation, an individual effort or group work – even including the whole team. Supervision service is used mainly by managers and specialists who work in areas such as, but not limited to, social work, schools, mental health, law enforcement, etc.


A coach is most suited to help you unravel your professional or personal potential and guides you in dealing with setting goals and the motivation to reach them. Coaches don’t provide you with ready made solutions, instead, they assist you in finding out what the right path might be for you. A coach always looks toward the future.


Points of contacts and similarities

Reading the different descriptions, you might rightly get the impression that with some issues you could approach multiple specialists.

If you have already selected a specialist, it doesn’t mean you have to exclude other professions. Mental health is a comprehensive system. Whilst visiting a psychologist to deal with problems related to the past, you can at the same consult with a workplace counsellor about a specific issue or approach a coach to discuss future goals.

Try to openly share your thoughts and questions while talking with a professional – if they aren’t the right person to assist you, then they can direct you to a more suitable specialist.

Note that in mental health issues, medication can be prescribed only by doctors who have a medical degree. As an example, that can be a psychiatrist or your general practitioner. In any case, the treatment plan with medications should be accompanied by psychological support, whether it be from a psychiatrist or another suitable mental health professional to manage the patient’s thoughts, feelings, environment, etc.

In many cases, taking care of your mental health can prevent more serious issues so try to think of it as a hygiene issue. Take regular time out to sort things out, address your thoughts and take a step back to see how your lifestyle is supporting your wellbeing.

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