Coming to the realization that you need assistance for a mental health related problem is often one of the hardest steps to take. You may have had some assistance in reaching this point, possibly through the intervention of a well-meaning relative or health professional, but the next question you may be faced with is how to choose the best mental healthcare provider for your needs. Depending on the nature of your distress, there are various options available to you.
Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who have decided to specialize in psychiatry. They assess, diagnose and treat a variety of psychiatric illnesses. While some psychiatrists do offer talk therapy, their main mode of treatment is through using various medications to relieve the symptoms of psychiatric distress and allow you to reach an optimal level of functioning.
Clinical psychologists use therapy as their main mode of treatment and are equipped to deal with moderate to severe types of psychiatric illness. They are best suited to assess, diagnose and treat various debilitating illness, such as mood and psychotic disorders, to name a few. They are also equipped to help you deal with various life stressors and conflict in interpersonal relationships.
Counselling psychologists specialize in assisting individuals who are relatively psychiatrically healthy and deal with various psychological and social life stressors. They are best suited to helping people deal with conflict in relationships, work and school. It’s important to note that there are areas of overlap between the two types of psychologists’ scopes of practice, and both counselling and clinical psychologists will be able to make an accurate assessment of the best way forward for effective treatment.
Also working within the area of mental health in South Africa are registered counsellors. These professionals are trained to assess the nature of psychiatric distress, contain and treat if within their scope of practice and refer on for further treatment if necessary. Registered counsellors are often adept at providing short term, solution focused therapy.
Whatever route you decide to take, it is important to make sure that your mental health practitioner is registered by the Health Professions Counsel of South Africa (HPCSA). This ensures that they have the required qualifications to work within the area of mental health and have committed to adhering to the ethics standards as set out by the HPCSA.