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Counselling or Therapy? Who to see when you need mental health support

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Navigating the complexities and routes of the mental health world can be confusing, stressful, and a real challenge to understand. For example, people may have difficulty over the various titles of various professionals involved in mental health counselling and therapy.

To add to this, NHS services for children and adults are under increasing pressure. Insufficient funding and resources, which has resulted to long waiting times and suboptimal outcomes, has increasingly led people to seek support from the private sector. Whether you’re trying to navigate systems in the NHS, or looking for someone who can help in the private sector, it can be a significant ordeal getting the right help at the right time.

With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to guide people through some of the people and roles you might come across in the mental health field from psychiatry to counselling.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and serves only to give an overview.

A young person sits in a chair. A hand extends from the right of the image, and holds and supports the young person's hands.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has undergone the same basic training as any other doctor, such as a GP or surgeon. They have also undertaken several years of extra training to specialise in mental health. In the UK, the role of a psychiatrist is typically to assess and diagnose mental health disorders, according to a set of diagnostic criteria. The way in which they offer treatment is typically prescribed medication. They may also be involved in the assessment and diagnosis of developmental conditions. UK-based psychiatrists will very rarely offer talking therapy, but may refer their patients to other professionals who do.

Counsellors or Psychotherapists

Counsellors have completed at least one diploma in counselling or a particular model of therapy, such as CBT. The terms ‘counsellor’ and ‘psychotherapist’ are not legally protected titles, therefore it is worth exploring what training they have received. Counsellors and psychotherapists are trained to work with individuals and couples in order to address a number of different common mental health difficulties. There is huge variation in the types of therapy and counselling on offer. An example: someone who holds a diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) would typically be called a CBT therapist.

Educational Psychologists

Educational Psychologists work with children and young people, typically up to the age of 19, to address issues related to learning, emotional, and behavioural development. Most are employed by local education authorities; however, many also work in a variety of other settings, including the private sector. They work in collaboration with other professional groups, such as teachers and social workers, to help develop a plan for young person to aid their development. Currently, in order to hold their title, educational psychologists must complete a doctorate and be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the organization that oversees the training and competence of these clinicians. This title is therefore legally protected.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical Psychologists are mental health professionals who have completed an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in psychology. They would typically then gain clinical experience in mental health settings, and complete one of the accredited three-year Doctorates in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy). Clinical Psychologists are trained in a number of different types of talking therapy in order to help people with a range of different mental health difficulties. They are also trained to undertake and evaluate current research to determine the most effective treatments, and often supervise the clinical practice of other mental health professionals. Whilst anyone who has completed a psychology degree can call themselves a psychologist, the term ‘Clinical Psychologist’ is a legally protected title that safeguards the quality and rigor of the training they have undergone.

So, out of all of these people, how do I know which one to see?

We hope that the information above will help to clarify the role of various mental health professionals you may come across within the psychology and counselling world. This article can’t tell you exactly who to choose, as this is a personal decision and will vary from individual to individual.

However, an essential thing to remember is that the relationship that develops between the professional and individual/family is the best predictor of success in addressing difficulties. It is very much worth considering who you’re working with, as well as what professional group they belong to. Please know that you are entitled to ask many questions about professional qualifications, training, experience whilst looking for a professional to help. You can also ask about how they can support you and/or the person you care about.

It can be stressful in accessing services and professionals. But they are there to support you. The benefits from seeing a professional can be monumental. So don’t be afraid or reluctant to reach out and ask.


This blog was written by Dr Bear, a clinical psychologist and Wellbeing Director for youHQ and Life on Time. He has worked in the NHS and private sector for 15 years in a variety of roles across the country.

If you're struggling to find help for yourself or a loved one, charities such as Mind, YoungMinds, Rethink Mental Illness, and Mental Health Foundation are a good starting point to finding resources and professionals you need.

For more information about youHQ, our school wellbeing platform, and to sign up for a free trial, please click HERE.

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