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Finding a mental-health professional

What’s the difference between a psychiatrist, therapist and other mental-health practitioners?
 
Woman talking to therapist
 
If you're having mental health issues, your first step is to visit your family doctor who can play a crucial role in your psychological well-being. Certain medications and medical conditions can have psychological effects, so it's worth getting a physical checkup, too. (Some even offer psychotherapy and their services would be covered by provincial and territorial health plans.)
There are many different people who treat mental illness – psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists are some. Above all, it’s important to work with someone with whom you feel comfortable and with whom you can form a supportive therapeutic relationship. We spoke with Dr. Nancy McCallum, a psychiatrist in the Trauma Therapy Program at Women’s College Hospital, about the various mental-health professionals and what they do.
 
PSYCHIATRIST
This Doctor of Medicine (MD) is licensed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons and uses a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Referral needed? Yes
Prescribes medication? Yes
Covered by provincial and territorial health plans? Yes, which makes for high demand, more limited hours and longer wait times.

PSYCHOLOGIST
Psychologists have a PhD in psychology and offer psychological analysis and psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or other modalities. A psychologist will often work in collaboration with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor who provides medical treatment for mental illness while the psychologist provides the analysis and talk therapy.
Referral needed? No
Prescribes medication? No
Covered by health plans? No, but may be covered by a private insurance company or workplace benefits provider.

PSYCHOTHERAPIST (MENTAL HEALTH THERAPIST)
These practitioners have a master’s degree in psychotherapy and provide talk therapy in a variety of modalities, as well as mindfulness and other relaxation strategies.
Referral needed? No
Prescribes medication? No
Covered by health plans? No, but may be covered by a private insurance company or workplace benefits provider.

CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
A social worker will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work. Some will offer psychotherapy as part of their practice, as well as case management and hospital discharge planning.
Referral needed? No
Prescribes medication? No
Covered by health plans? No, but may be covered by a private insurance company or workplace benefits provider.
 
Online mental-health resources
Psychology Today has an extensive directory of therapists, treatment centres and support groups. Filter your search by location, insurance, faith, sexuality, age, language and treatment approach.
 
Psychotherapy Matters helps connect people in Ontario with a local therapist.

Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research collects programs designed to help Indigenous people care for their mental health, including youth groups, suicide prevention groups and addiction services.
 
Peer Support Canada is developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association. It connects people with similar mental health experiences to provide guidance and support to each other. 
 
Check Up from the Neck Up reminds us that mental health is as important to our well-being as physical health. It offers quizzes to help you understand your own mental health.

Anxiety Canada
is an online resource for those with anxiety disorders. It also created the Mindshift app, which provides anxiety-coping tools like CBT.
 
Not Myself Today gives employers the tools and resources to help improve the mental health of their employees, reduce stigma and build awareness of mental health in the workforce. 

Help Guide
provides helpful information on a variety of mental health issues. 
 
THE EXPERT Dr. Nancy McCallum, psychiatrist, Trauma Therapy Program, Women’s College Hospital
 
This information is provided by Women's College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on January 3, 2020.
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  • Women's College Hospital