finding the right mental health professional

Finding the Right Mental Health Professional

Seeking help for mental health struggles is a difficult step to take. It’s even more difficult when you’re unsure whom to approach for help.


Finding the right mental health professional is a significant and highly variable step in addressing our mental health needs. Common knowledge about mental healthcare providers is muddled at best. For example, “therapist” may refer to a mental healthcare provider — or it may not. Any individual trained to alleviate specific physical or mental concerns can be called a therapist, including physical therapists, speech therapists psychotherapists, and more.


Understanding the right terms for each type of mental healthcare provider eases confusion and helps individuals understand what they need. Just as there are a variety of doctors to care for different types of physical illnesses, a variety of mental healthcare professions care for specific mental and emotional problems in specific, trained ways. 


Types of mental health professionals

Family doctor

Legally required: an M.B.B.S. recognised by the Medical Council of India; doctors with legitimate degrees are found in the country’s National Medical Register.

Additional: Any type of M.D./DNB/MS specialisation

Mental health services:
Since mental health struggles often have physical symptoms as well as mental and emotional ones, family doctors are often the first point of contact for mental healthcare. They can run tests to rule out (or diagnose and treat) physiological problems that mimic mental health struggles, like vitamin deficiencies and thyroid disorders. 

Family doctors can diagnose and treat mental health conditions such as stress, depression, anxiety, and emotional upheavals caused by grief or shock. They can also provide referrals to legitimate mental health professionals for more specialised care.


Depending on the city and the expertise of the doctor involved, a single visit can cost anywhere between Rs. 100 – 1500.


Should you visit?
Family doctors can be trusted entry points into the mental healthcare system. Since they tend to enjoy a more personal, long-standing relationship with their patients, some people may feel more comfortable opening up about stressors, emotions, and circumstances with their family doctors. If you’re struggling with the idea of mental healthcare, with severe physical symptoms, or simply don’t know where to turn for help, a family doctor can be a good place to start.


Clinical Psychologist

Legally required: B.A/B.Sc Psychology, and an M.A/M.Sc and an M.Phil in relevant field from an institution recognised by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI)

Mental health services:
Clinical psychologists are trained to identify and support a variety of mental health disorders, intellectual disabilities, and neurodivergent types. They are also equipped to help people understand and navigate a variety of interpersonal concerns ranging from family to work to relationship issues. While clinical psychologists can diagnose and treat mental health conditions, they cannot prescribe medication for the same. However, clinical psychologists can work with psychiatrists to help the patient access medication, depending on the patient’s needs.

Clinical psychologists can help patients with struggles including addiction, stress, and daily life issues that cause excessive distress. They can also help diagnose and treat mental health disorders like clinical depression, perinatal depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. Clinical psychologists are also trained to treat these illnesses via several types of therapeutic methods that do not include medication.


Clinical psychologists in India charge anything between Rs. 100-5000, depending on their location, years of experience, and the types of services provided. Sometimes, clinical psychologists will charge extra to administer diagnostic tests. Some clinical psychologists offer a sliding payment scale for individuals who require financial assistance.


Should you visit?
The wide variety of services a clinical psychologist is able to provide makes them the most accessible form of mental healthcare. If there’s any doubt or confusion with respect to the mental health struggles you’re facing, a visit to a clinical psychologist may help put you on the right path.



Legally required: an M.B.B.S. and M.D./ DNB in Psychiatry recognised by the Medical Council of India; doctors with legitimate degrees are found in the country’s National Medical Register.

Additional: M.Sc and/or Ph.D. in relevant field of specialisation


Mental health services:
Psychiatrists are medical doctors that treat mental health disorders exclusively. They treat these conditions either via therapeutic methods similar to what clinical psychologists use, via medication, or via both. Psychiatrists are the only mental healthcare professionals who can prescribe medication or specific medical procedures for mental health concerns. Psychiatrists can also admit patients to psychiatric wards within a hospital or psychiatric facility in the rare event a patient’s condition becomes severe and endangering.


Consultations with psychiatrists may cost anything between Rs. 500-3000, depending on their location, years of experience, and the types of services provided. Psychiatrists practising in government hospitals charge less but have long waiting times due to high demand. Some psychiatrists with private practices offer a sliding pay scale for individuals who require financial assistance.


Should you visit?
A visit to a psychiatrist is essential if you face debilitating mental health symptoms that require medical intervention. If you are already seeing a clinical psychologist, they may recommend that you see a psychiatrist if you’re experiencing symptoms the psychologist cannot treat. In this case, the psychologist will often work with the psychiatrist to coordinate their treatment or help ease the transition. 

Counselling Psychologist

Legally required: B.A. or M.A in Psychology

Additional: Certificates in specific types of counselling such as for grief, relationships, substance abuse, etc.


Mental health services: 
Counselling psychologists offer a safe space for clients to work through daily life concerns that have brought about mental distress. Some counselling psychologists provide talk therapy for general struggles, while others only support specific struggles such as grief, navigating sexuality, family discord, substance abuse, and more.


Counselling psychologists in India charge anything between Rs. 500-2000, depending on their location, years of experience, and the types of services provided. Some counselling psychologists offer a sliding payment scale for individuals who require financial assistance. 


Should you visit? 
If you’re looking to speak with someone about life issues or stressors that stand in the way of your personal happiness or goals, a counselling psychologist might be the right fit. Or if you’re dealing with specific, circumstantial struggles like grief or relationships problems, a counselling psychologist may be able to help. However, if these concerns stem from an underlying mental health issue, a counselling psychologist will refer you to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.


People who are not mental health professionals


Mental healthcare is a relatively new professional field in India, which leaves space for untrained people to set themselves up as professional caregivers.


Some social media influencers leverage the love of their fans to create careers as life coaches who offer mental health advice. Before paying for these services, it is important to check whether the person is both qualified and ready to provide long-term support. It’s also critical to look into the evidence (if any) behind the solutions they offer.


Mental health help or medicine products provided by religious leaders and monks also deserve close scrutiny. While it is possible to find mental peace through religion, it is important to understand that non-scientific methods have less likelihood of safety and success than thoroughly researched treatments. Further, herbal medicine not prescribed by psychiatrists may make mental or physical health worse.


Life coaches or counsellors are also not legitimate forms of mental health care. The term “counsellor” is often used by unqualified or untrained individuals. While their methods may provide temporary relief, they cannot provide long-term, effective mental health support.

Finding the mental health professional right for you


Mental healthcare starts with identifying the right type of mental health professional to support your struggles. But effective mental healthcare is about identifying who is actually the right caregiver for you. Both processes are often slow, full of trial-and-error, and involve questions and reflection — questions about credentials, techniques, and why the professional is making their recommendations, and reflection on whether and how you respond to the professional personally and to their methods. The first mental health professional you consult may not be the right one for you — but you’ve taken the first, biggest step toward getting the help you need.


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