There are a range of professionals who can help with mental health issues.
It can sometimes be confusing to work out who does what.
This is a guide to the different mental health workers you might come across.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are experts in mental health. They are specialists in diagnosing and treating people with mental illness.
Psychiatrists have a medical degree plus extra mental health training. They have done at least 11 years of university study and medical training.
They treat all types of mental illness, from mild to severe.
- diagnose mental illness
- help with both your physical and mental health
- review your life situation and history and how it affects your mental health
- provide medication and psychological treatments (talking therapies)
- prepare reports for a court
- admit you to hospital when needed
- arrange other medical services such as pathology tests and referrals to other doctors.
Psychiatrists often lead teams of other mental health workers. They work with you to decide how you will be treated and who should be involved.
You might see a psychiatrist at a hospital, in a private office or at a community health service.
You need a referral from your GP (family doctor) to see a psychiatrist. In Australia, Medicare rebates are available for psychiatry appointments.
More about psychiatrists
Find a psychiatrist
GP (family doctor)
Your GP is the person to talk to first if you are worried about your mental health.
GPs have a medical degree and most also have several years of supervised experience. Some GPs have extra training in mental health.
They can provide general medical advice, as well as:
- diagnose some mental health problems
- provide support and advice
- refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist
- prepare a Mental Health Treatment Plan (in Australia)
- prescribe medications for you
- keep track of your physical health and any side effects of medication
- follow up after you’ve finished seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Some GPs can also offer psychological treatments (talking therapy).
Once you find a GP you are happy with, stick with them. A good ongoing relationship with your GP can lead to fewer specialist appointments or hospital visits, and a better chance of recovery.
Psychologists are experts in the way people think, feel and behave.
Psychologists have at least 6 years of university study and supervised experience. They may also have a Masters or Doctorate level qualification.
There are different types of psychologists. Clinical psychologists have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. They are the type of psychologist you are most likely to see for help with a mental health issue.
All psychologists must be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia or the New Zealand Psychologists Board.
- diagnose mental illness
- provide psychological treatments
- test for intellectual and psychological function
- prepare reports for a court.
Psychologists are not medical doctors and don’t prescribe medication.
It’s possible to see a psychologist without a referral.
But, in Australia, ask your GP for a referral as part of a Mental Health Treatment Plan. Medicare will then cover some or all of the cost of seeing the psychologist.
Psychiatrist and psychologist: what’s the difference?