Mental Health Professionals: Confusion to Clarity
Updated: May 14
As we go through the course of life, several events may leave us with disturbed mental health. Most of the time, when the days are bearable, we mostly have the usual healthy stress and conflicts. But a few incidents, such as accidents, deaths, break-ups, or even sometimes boring routines or jobs, can result in unsettled mental well-being. Of course, after such incidents, it is normal to grieve, disconnect for a while, cry, stay numb, and maybe feel weak. The duration of such a period can vary for different people. It can be either an hour, a day, a week, a month, or even a year. Sometimes, even more than that. Though, it is important at any point to ask for help, to talk it out, to have someone beside us, someone who does not judge, and one who listens carefully. These times are hard and can be unbearable. It might seem like life is no more worth living. Reaching out to someone does not seem like a solution. And that's when it is most important to reach out to a mental health professional.
This does not mean you cannot/should not reach out to a professional if your mental health concerns are not at their peak. It is advised to ask for help when you feel that your mental health concerns are getting out of hand. When a part of our body aches, we get concerned about it right away, don’t we? Or do we wait to get it worse? The same should work for mental health too.
When we become aware that there is a doctor (professional) who specializes in mental health issues too, we search on Google and find there are a lot of different professionals available. Just like a heart specialist is known as a cardiologist, one who treats bones and muscles is known as an orthopedist, the one who treats mental-health related issues are Counselling Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, different kinds of Therapists, Psychotherapists, etc.
But the question is, whom to reach out to, for what issues, and what qualifications are best suited? Here, we shall discuss three major professionals according to the Indian system.
1. Clinical Psychologist: A Clinical Psychologist shall have MA/MSc in Psychology and MPhil in Clinical Psychology with RCI Licence. They can provide therapy and diagnose psychological issues. They cannot prescribe any medicines for which they might refer you to see a Psychiatrist. They deal with serious problems such as disorders or high levels of depression, persisting anxiety or panic attacks, etc.
2. Counseling Psychologist/Therapist: A Counseling Psychologist has done MA/MSc in Psychology. They can provide therapy but cannot diagnose any mental health issues or prescribe any medicine. They can help you with less severe mental health issues.
There are different types of therapists and it depends upon the area in which they practice. There are Marriage & Family Therapists, Child & adolescent therapists, Sex Therapists, Music Therapists, Dance & Art Therapists, Trauma-focused Therapists, Hypnotherapists, Group Therapists, and many others for different issues. We shall talk about them in another blog where we will discuss types of therapy.
A person with Bachelor’s degree can work as an intern or associate under the supervision of a Senior Psychologist and cannot provide therapy.
3. Psychiatrist: A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MBBS, MD Psychiatry) who can prescribe medicines. Usually, they do not provide therapy, but to know more about the patient and for diagnosis, they talk to the client and listen to their problems briefly and then prescribe medication if needed. For additional counseling, they might advise the patient to see a Psychologist or Therapist.
There is a lack of licensed mental health professionals in India due to socio-political issues. Few institutes offer MPhil Clinical Psychology courses and the seats are few which is why our country lacks licensed professionals who can make a diagnosis and provide better mental health care services. There is often a long waiting list to book a session with a clinical psychologist so you may book a session with a counseling psychologist. Consider consulting a clinical or a counseling psychologist first before consulting a psychiatrist especially if you want to avoid medication. It’s also important to understand that medication may be required for serious mental health issues before starting therapy. So the next time you feel the need to confide in someone, consider reaching out to a mental health professional instead of your best friend. They can provide you with objective guidance and support to help you work through your issues.
Written by: Tasmi Memon
Proofread & edited by: Rubal Prajapati (Counseling Psychologist and Ph.D. Scholar at Bharathiar University)