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5 Types of Mental Health Professionals

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

What are the differences between Mental Health Professionals?

When you are suffering from emotional distress, it is common to seek professional help. However, there is a plethora of relevant information on mental health on the market. The scope of services of different professional service providers seems to overlap, but there are substantial differences. This makes it difficult for the general public to understand. So exactly what kind of professional services suit your needs? There are currently five main types of mental health professionals in Hong Kong: social workers, counsellors, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and life coaches. Let’s take a look at each specific role and services.

1. Social Worker

Social worker is a profession which is usually registered locally. When dealing with mental health problems, social workers tend to seek external resources to help those in need to reconnect with society and support their needs. When faced with people in need of mental health services, the social worker may first conduct a simple psychological assessment and counselling, and provide referral services (such as psychiatrists) as the situation requires. In addition, social workers are particularly aware of what mental health services are provided in the local community where they belong to, and help the people in need to receive appropriate services. Generally speaking, they are employed by the government, community centers and non-governmental organizations.

2. Counsellor

Counsellors are generally focus specific issues and are designed to help a person address a particular problem, or on learning specific techniques for coping with. Counselling is also usually more short-term than therapy. Most of them specialize in specific treatment methods, such as play therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, etc. It is worth mentioning that although the nature of the work of counsellors and social workers overlap, there is currently no statutory registration system for counsellors in Hong Kong. Anyone can claim to be a "counsellor", so when choosing a counsellor, it is best to be referred by a reputable organization or professional to ensure the quality of service.

3. Psychiatrist

The public often believes that only mental patients, such as those with schizophrenia or mental disorders, need to seek help from a psychiatrist, but many people ignore that emotional illness is actually one of mental illnesses. Psychiatrist is one of the specialist doctors. In addition to completing basic medical training, they must continue to receive additional psychiatric professional training to become a qualified psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will diagnose the condition based on the patient's brain structure and the delivery of brain chemicals (such as serotonin). They usually deal with patients with severe mental illnesses with medication. Among the five types of mental health professionals, only psychiatrists are qualified to provide medication and prescribe sick leave certificates.

4. Clinical Psychologist

Clinical Psychologists (CP) are experts in mental wellness. They can evaluate the causes of psychological distress in the context of your "past experience and contributing factors", such as genetic predispositions, social and family influences, and psychological coping styles. Clinical psychologists can also help formulate recovery treatment plans, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.

CP possesses highly specialized training in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health, behavioral and emotional disorders throughout the life cycle. CP usually completes a master's or doctoral degree, and generally requires eight years of education and training.

Clinical psychology is a combination of science, theory and clinical knowledge, as well as providing continuous and comprehensive psychological and behavioral health care for individuals and families. It aims to understand, prevent and alleviate mild to complex emotional problems, and promote emotional well-being and personal development.

Clinical psychologists can:

  • Help you manage your long-term mental health

  • Provide advice on lifestyle changes to help manage psychological distress

  • Counselling with you alone or with your partner and family

  • Provide second opinions and suggestions to other mental health professionals

5. Life Coach

The above four types of mental health professionals are well known in Hong Kong, whilst Life Coach is still fairly new to the public. Speaking of coaches, it usually reminds you of sports coaches who train and improve athletes' performance. In the same way, life coaching actually helps clients search for clearer personal goals, and find out the difficulties that hinder the realization of the goals, and then jointly formulate strategies for each obstacle, inspire their inner potential and reach the goals in career and personal life. There are all kinds of life coaches on the market. One can become a certified life coach after a short course of training. Therefore, it is recommended to seek the one that is best suitable for your needs.

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