Marcella Kelson

Navigating Mental Health: Who Should You See?

Knowing that you are ready for mental health support, but not knowing who or what kind of support you need, is a painful position to find yourself in. Use these general facts to get a better sense of the kind of work you want to be doing.


·    How it works: A psychiatrist is someone who has a degree in medicine and focuses on diagnostics, symptom management, and the physical aspects of mental illness. If the use of medicine as an intervention is a consideration, a psychiatrist with extensive clinical training is a great option. Psychiatrists who practice in hospital settings often work with a team of psychologists, psychotherapists, and social workers on one case. This is a multi- disciplinary team approach that is advantageous for cases that may benefit from various perspectives.

·    Who it benefits: A psychiatrist is an ideal choice for anyone considering addressing their mental illness through medicine (e.g., eating disorders, major depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, severe anxiety, suicidality, ADHD, PTSD).

·    Commonly used titles: MD


·    How it works: Psychotherapy is a general term and captures a wide variety of practitioners. The most important distinction between a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist is medicine.  A psychotherapist never administers, prescribes, or manages medicine. Their background may be in social work, counseling, and/or family therapy. It’s a broad term and can be widely interpreted. For example, a clinical social worker that has clocked a required number of clinical hours (i.e., 3,000) can function as a private psychotherapy practice, as long as they are properly licensed.

·    Who it benefits: Anyone wanting to address mental health issues without the use of medication. Psychotherapy often focuses on the dynamics brought to the session by the client (e.g., anxiety, depressive symptoms, grief, relationship issues, PTSD). Typically, communication is limited between sessions..

·    Commonly used titles: LCSW, MFT


·    How it works: A clinical psychologist has an extensive educational background and has completed research in the field of psychology. Like a psychotherapist, a session is conducted based on the person’s area of strength, research, and training.

·    Who it benefits: Someone with significant anxiety symptoms may seek treatment from a clinical psychologist. They are qualified to deal with a significant range of mental health issues and have extensive training in specific orientations/modalities (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

·    Commonly used titles: Clinical PsyD, PHD


·    How it works: Coaching can mean a variety of things and is not a regulated profession. Pretty much anyone can decide they are a coach. My interpretation of coaching is that it’s a motivational and educational tool requiring a significant amount of practical work, introspection, and homework. Coaches can utilize their own experiences in sessions, and often will communicate with clients by email or telephone to provide support between sessions.

·    Who it benefits: A life coach can be hugely beneficial for anyone looking for empowerment and who is ready to work. Sessions focus mostly on goal setting, action items, and accountability. Coaching works best under specific time frames and is a great way to inspire change or work through difficult periods. This is not a tool I would recommend for anyone with a significant mental health problem who needs support, unless the coach is also a qualified, licensed, and practicing mental health professional.

·       Commonly used titles: Varied backgrounds in mental health, coaching certification from various institutes.


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