Types of Mental Health Practitioners

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Find out what the difference between psychiatrist and psychologist is, and learn more about the different schools of therapy
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11 mins read

Types of Mental Health Practitioners

While many people don’t know if a therapist can completely understand them, others might not be sure of finding the right one for their needs. Here’s an insight by Heart It Out that can help you understand the various types of mental healthcare practitioners that are around and how you can find one best suited to you.

Who Is A Therapist?

A therapist, or a psychotherapist is a Mental Health professional who has been trained in interpersonal skills and the study of the mind. They use this training to aid individuals to improve their cognitive and emotional abilities in order to cope with existing Mental Health complaints,  overcome day-to-day challenges more effectively, and cultivate better relationships.

What Are The Qualities Of A Good Therapist?

A therapist, or a psychotherapist is a Mental Health professional who has been trained in interpersonal skills and the study of the mind. They use this training to aid individuals to improve their cognitive and emotional abilities in order to cope with existing Mental Health complaints,  overcome day-to-day challenges more effectively, and cultivate better relationships.

Here are some qualities which every effective therapist must possess, that are fairly easy to recognise:

  • A sophisticated set of interpersonal skills: Psychotherapists are trained in interpersonal skills. The ability to listen to you attentively, showcase empathy and understanding, and provide unprejudiced feedback is, hence, a reliable sign of a good therapist
  • They practice active listening and empathy: Therapists practice the skill of ‘active listening’ and ‘empathy’. By ‘actively listening’ to you, a therapist gives you their undivided attention; and ‘empathy’ is their ability to understand your problems and challenges from your perspective. A therapist with such qualities would be able to feel safe and accepted during the session
  • Ability to establish trust (a trustworthy personality): Before all else, you should be able to trust and confide in your therapist. So, paying attention to whether or not your therapist is easy to trust and makes you feel comfortable about opening up is a key factor in whether or not you should pick them
  • They can provide insight into your problems: Talking about opening up, you don’t just go to therapy for a place to pour out all that’s on your mind. A good therapist is trained in analysing your problems and help you develop a new and fruitful perspective towards them
  • They pay attention to the client’s progress in therapy: While one part of therapy is dealing with a client’s problems, another, and a more vital part of therapy, is recognising and building on their clients. Understanding this, a good therapist helps you notice and build on your strong points and notices the progress you make through the sessions
  • They hold optimism towards improvement and change: A good therapist believes in you and your ability to change towards the better, despite setbacks and relapses
  • They are sensitive to your background: Our environment plays a major role in shaping us and good therapist understands this and keeps this in mind when understanding your problems and developing insights

They adhere to the principles of counselling: The practice of Psychotherapy and Counselling is based upon several principles which ensure that the client receives the right help for their challenges. All good Psychotherapists swear by these principles and aim to practice them through all their sessions. You can read more about these principles below.

Principles of Counselling

The practice of Psychotherapy is based on various principles which help the client feel safe and  heard during the session. This helps the clients take the necessary steps to bring about positive changes in their lives. Some of the most notable principles followed by Mental Health Professionals across the globe:

  • Principle of Acceptance: Therapists accept the patient for who he/she is. This includes their physical, psychological and socio-economic conditions, and cultural and religious background
  • Principle of Communication: Therapists are honed in the skill of good verbal as well as non-verbal communication skills through the years of their training
  • Principle of Empathy: Therapists are trained in the skill of Empathy, which allows them to understand the lives and challenges of the clients through their eyes. This allows them to connect with the clients and give effective feedback and insight on their problems. This is not to be confused with showcasing ‘sympathy’, which means feeling pity for the client’s situations
  • Principle of Non-Judgemental Attitude: Therapists are pushed through training to not hold judgements towards the clients and their situations, which means that they do not criticise the client’s decisions and conditions
  • Principle of Confidentiality: One of the most important principles in the Psychotherapy book of ethics, Confidentiality ensures that a client’s identity and problems do not leave the therapist’s office
  • Principle of Individuality: Therapists treat each client as unique individuals with unique life experiences and problems
  • Principles of Non-Emotional Involvement: While a therapist does empathise with whatever the client is going through, they don’t get emotionally involved in the problems or get carried away
  • Principle of Non-Dependence: A therapist does not encourage the patient to depend on them, but rather works towards enhancing their self-sufficiency and independence

What Are The Various Types Of Therapists?

Here is a list of the various types of Mental Health Practitioners:

  • Psychotherapist

is someone who utilises their training and knowledge in the field of Psychology to help people deal with day-to-day challenges and helps them devise solutions to gain better emotional insight. Psychotherapists usually have a Masters degree in Counselling, Psychology and other related fields. They may also vary in specialisations, such as Addiction, Child Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Grief, and Rehabilitation

  • Clinical Psychologists

have a Masters degree in Psychology and choose to use their knowledge to help people through their challenges. Their role is very similar to that of Psychotherapists, however, they hail from a more theoretical background in the subject and are trained to administer and analyse psychological tests

  • Psychiatrists

are often confused with Psychotherapists, but the two could not be more different. Psychiatrists have a background in Medicine which allows them to prescribe medication to help the patients cope with challenging medical conditions. Depending on further specialisations, they may or may not offer Psychotherapy/Counseling services

  • Coach

is an amalgamation of a mentor and a therapist, and helps individuals and Corporate teams work towards the desired goal. A coach uses short-term, solution-driven methods in order to propel the team or individual in the desired direction

  • Alternative practitioners

offer a wide range of healing practices which go beyond the realm of traditional psychotherapy. Practices such as Acupressure, Acupuncture, Pranic Healing, Yoga and Reiki have proven to be effective Alternative Healing Practices, with many being backed by scientific research

  • Psychiatric Social Worker

may or may not be certified to provide psychotherapy but play a crucial role in helping people access Mental Health aid where certified professionals are unavailable. They extend legal support, and help individuals seek adequate help from the police and other government bodies. They can be approached for a variety of personal and social problems which may be causing an individual or a group any amount of psychological distress.

Other than the aforementioned, there are also non-certified Mental Health practitioners who can be reached in case one cannot find the listed professionals. These professionals may have little to no training in the field of Psychology and therapy, so we recommend that if you choose to approach them you do so with caution. Read on till the end of this article on the possible red flags to look out for during therapy.

How Do You Pick The Right Therapist?

  • Do your research

Read up on the various therapies and specialisations associated with your complaint and look up therapists with related skill sets. Understanding what you are looking for is a step in the right direction to finding a therapist who will fit your needs.

  • Recommendations from friends & family

If anyone you know has been into therapy seek their advice and recommendation. You also ask them about their experience in therapy to gain a better idea about what to expect during sessions.

  • Learn more about theoretical orientations

    Though this is not a necessity for anyone approaching therapy to know the various theoretical orientations, however, it could go a long way in seeking the correct treatment for your presenting problem if one had some idea about what to seek. Here’s a brief outline of some of the most popular orientations and what kind of problems they can apply to –
    • The Psychodynamic school of thought deals with unconscious aspects of human behaviour, and can be used for addressing concerns which do not seem to have any conscious/tangible cause
    • The Cognitive school of thought can be used to tackle problems that are rooted in unproductive/harmful thought processes
    • Narrative Therapy and Solution-Oriented Counselling can help you approach your problems in the ‘here and now’ without diving deep into your childhood developmental patterns
  • Sort out your financials

Different types of Practitioners charge varying fees depending on their own rates as well as the treatment. As with everything else, expensive does not mean better. 

Questions To Ask

Other than doing your research on the internet and asking around in your circle, it is advisable that you reach out to the therapist via a call or an email and clarify any doubts you may have about the process or their practice. Here are some questions that you should ask your future therapist in order to make a well-informed choice.

  • Their educational background: What is their qualification and where did their receive their training. Here, the focus is on ensuring that the practitioner is preferably not certified through an online course
  • Their specialisation: This could range from special training to strengths, and can give you a better idea about whether or not the therapist has a stronghold in the area of your need. You could also explore if they have any past experience working with individuals with similar challenges as yours
  • Their license: Though licensing for Mental Health practitioners is not common practice in India, there still are licensed practitioners. Some of the most credible licenses in the country include licenses issued by the American Psychological Association (APA), which is recognised by the Indian Psychological Association (IPA); and the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). PLEASE NOTE that this does not signify how good a therapist is, but merely adds to their credibility
  • Their experience with therapy: Ask your therapist if he or she has ever been in therapy themselves. Every aspiring therapist is pushed towards seeking therapy themselves in order to address their own issues and thought pattern which may hinder them from attending to the client. It is, hence, important that your therapist has taken the time out to work on their own negative thoughts and communication patterns, blind spots, or prejudices

How To Tell If A Therapist Is Not Right For You?

  • They are distracted and attend to calls, emails or other personal work during the session
  • They are self-absorbed and talk extensively about themselves. A therapist may share experiences from their own life in context to your problems to provide a sense of support and understanding, however the focus of the session must remain on you
  • They are critical or judgemental towards you and your experiences
  • They touch you inappropriately or make inappropriate remarks that make you uncomfortable.  While a therapist can offer physical support such as holding hands or hugs, you should let them know if their touch makes you uncomfortable
  • They tell you what to do. While they can share their opinion and can give solicited advice, they shouldn’t order you around. Imposing Religious, Spiritual, Political or Social Beliefs: Therapists should respect your religious, spiritual, political and social beliefs
  • They impose their views on you, and are not sensitive to your social, economic, cultural and religious backgrounds
  • There is too much background noise/lack of privacy which makes you feel uneasy about sharing

In The End. . .

It is perfectly normal to be hesitant when first approaching therapy.  Opening up to another person can be extremely challenging for most of us, even if the ethics of psychotherapy ensure that everything you share would be treated with complete confidentiality and the therapist would adhere to a non-judgemental stance towards you and your life experiences. It is important to understand that seeking Mental Health support is primarily about what is good for you, and a good therapist would ensure that it remains the focus. In case you are feeling unfulfilled with the session, we’d suggest you address it with your therapist.

For any queries or questions about the process of therapy, or to book a session with our therapist, you can reach Heart It Out here.

We look forward to taking care of you!

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