The Different Types of Mental Health Service Providers

Let's start off by finding out if you need to read this article or not by asking a simple question:
Do you know the difference between a psychologist and a psychological associate?

If you know the answer you probably don’t need to read this, but you might want to share it with your friends. There is a good chance that they don't.

If you don't know the answer, you will find this article very useful. The purpose of this is to explain the role of different mental health providers.

Why you should care:

In Canada, less than a third of those who need mental health care, seek it. There are various barriers and understanding the complex system is one of them. Navigating our mental health system is difficult but this article can help you to get started. The first step to understanding our mental health system is knowing who does what.

The difference between Colleges and Associations:

Throughout this article, you will see the word “college” frequently. To avoid confusion, here’s the definition:

Mental health (and healthcare in general) is a regulated industry. This mandates providers to obtain a license/registration for their practice. They also have to follow certain guidelines to maintain their good-standing. The body that regulates each profession is called “college” and protects the public’s interest.

Each group of providers have an association as well. Associations are there to protect the interest of their members. They help their members with their career development and networking.

Who are the providers:

Understanding the difference between mental health providers is more than just general knowledge. It can help you find what you need when you're looking for help. It also helps to know what to expect from different providers. Here's the list of different types of providers in the Canadian mental health sector:

Psychiatrists are Medical Doctors (MD) who are specialized in delivering treatment for a full range of mental disorders and illnesses. Although psychiatrists can also do psychotherapy, they usually lead teams working on complex cases. They have the ability to prescribe medication.

Psychologists (C.Psych) have completed a PhD in psychology and human behaviour. In addition to their degree, they must meet the requirements of their regulatory college. They and Psychiatrists are the only types of providers that can use a “Dr.” title. The title C.Psych. stands for Clinical Psychologist.

Psychological Associates (C. Psych. Assoc.) are regulated under the same college as psychologists. They hold a Masters degree in psychology instead of PhD and have met the requirements of the college. Both groups are trained in assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental conditions. They focus their practice in specific areas such as clinical or counselling psychology.

Social Workers complete a B.Sc. and a Masters of Social Works degree from an accredited university. To become registered (RSW), social workers must meet the requirements of their college. Social workers can be part of a multidisciplinary team at a hospital, or provide one-on-one service. RSWs often provide psychotherapy, but it depends on the training that they receive.

Psychotherapist This stream of providers have been recently regulated in Ontario. Psychotherapists get evaluated based on a combination of their education, training and experience.

Psychiatric Nurses are nurses taking care of mental health patients. They usually work as members of multidisciplinary teams in hospitals.

Family Doctors are allowed to prescribe medication for mental health problems. A lot of people go to their family doctor when they are in need of mental health care. Family doctors can either refer a patient to a therapist or prescribe medication. A lot of times, people ask for medication instead of therapy, which is often not the best choice. Medication can manage the symptoms of a mental health problem but does not address the underlying problem.

What is covered by my insurance?

Visits to family doctors and psychiatrists are covered under OHIP. Therapy from other providers is not covered under OHIP unless its done under a government funded hospital set up.  You can either pay out of pocket or use your benefit package to cover the cost. Check with your insurance provider to find what is covered. Your plan may cover your visits to a psychologist or social workers up to a limit.

Differentiating different types of providers is more than general knowledge. Always make sure that your therapist is licensed to provide the service you are asking for. Ask about your therapist's specialties and experience. And if you did not feel comfortable, you always have the right to change them.

Be conscious about your mental wellbeing. Reach out for help if you need it and dedicate the time to properly address your mental health. Your mental health is as important as your physical health and you must be as sensitive (if not more) about it.