With many specializations in health care today, you may be confused about what kind of help you need and where to find it. Although this list may not answer all of your questions, it may help you to understand more clearly the role each professional plays in your efforts to achieve and maintain personal wellness.
Primary Care Physicians
Primary care physicians (PCPs) coordinate their patients’ overall health care. In many cases, patients are more familiar with their PCPs than other medical professionals and they may be initially inclined to discuss their mental health concerns with them. Although this is not always an insurance requirement for patients, PCPs can listen to their clients’ concerns, provide proper referrals and prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors with additional education and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they prescribe medication to reduce or eliminate troublesome symptoms. After an initial evaluation, psychiatrists meet regularly for brief appointments with their patients to assess the effectiveness of their treatment plan and medication. During these appointments, psychiatrists make changes to the medication regimen as needed to maintain or improve relief from symptoms. Although it is not commonly done today, some psychiatrists still incorporate psychotherapy as part of their practice.
Mental Health Counselors
Licensed psychologists, social workers and professional counselors can also be referred to as mental health counselors. You may see them serving clients in private practices, government agencies, hospitals and non-profit organizations throughout the community. They have advanced degrees in the study of human behavior, mental processes, personality types, intellect and emotions.
In clinical settings, counselors diagnose and treat mental disorders; they strive to relieve their clients’ symptoms primarily through psychotherapy. During regular appointments that extend from 30 to 60 minutes, these mental health professionals, in collaboration with their clients, determine what course of action is best for them and provide support while they make necessary adjustments. Mental health counselors incorporate complementary therapies when needed and make referrals as necessary.
In community-based social service settings, caseworkers have a somewhat different function. Their purpose is to alleviate hardship by connecting people with the help they need. Caseworkers are knowledgeable about resources (food, shelter, health care, clothing, etc) available through government agencies or private funding. Besides identifying these programs and benefits, caseworkers can assist people with the application process and sometimes access emergency relief in crisis situations. These employees usually carry large caseloads so it is often best, if possible, to schedule an appointment in advance.
Consultation among health care professionals, caseworkers and other significant individuals occurs as needed with the client’s written permission.