Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Therapist...Oh my!

I have been encouraged about the recent acknowledgment of mental health challenges in the Olympics as a movement in the right direction of being able to address these issues out in the open without stigma. I believe many of these challenges in sport, as well as society at large, are due to the emotional toll that was felt and continues to be felt, due to the consequences of living during a global pandemic.

The increased attention in mental health has many people needing help and wanting to find services, but they are confused about where to go and whom they should see. There are many different types of mental health professionals, so how do you know which one you should contact? I will be the first to admit it is all very confusing. 

Here is a rough guideline to help explain some of the basics of the primary roles of the most common mental health professionals to help you know where to start and steer you to the type of help you may need.  

Psychiatrist - MED, licensed Dr able to prescribe medication. Does not typically engage in the therapeutic process. You go to see a Psychiatrist if you want to be evaluated for medication.  

Psychologist - PsyD., licensed to do legal evaluations, testing, Diagnosing, may have some therapy experience but generally is more in charge of programs. You would go to see a psychologist if you were wanting a custody evaluation, disability application, etc.

Sports Psychologist - PsyD, LIcensed to perform sports psychology services, not trained to do traditional therapy or work with mental illness. You would go to see a sports psychologist if you were wanting to learn to focus, concentrate, visualize and overcome limiting beliefs.  

Therapist/Counselor - (for now this title is interchangeable) conducts one-on-one psychotherapy and group counseling. You go to see a counselor if you are struggling with life's issues or if you are concerned about having a mental illness. A therapist can have a variety of specialty areas.

Addiction Counselors -  these professionals specialize in working with people that struggle with any type of addiction from Pornography, substances, alcohol, shopping, pornography, etc.  

Social Worker -  helps individuals and families improve their quality of life by ensuring access to basic needs such as food, shelter and safety. They do this by analyzing the environment, relationships, systems and policies that impact their clients' lives, then help through advocacy, counseling, and referrals to other agencies and professionals.

Performance Coach - You would obtain the services of a performance coach if you wanted to reach a goal or achieve something specific. They will help create the plan and hold you accountable for doing what you say you want to do. Performance coaches can not do therapy and are not trained to deal with mental illness.  

Life Coach - You go to see a life coach for general guidance and direction in your current life situation and your life moving forward. They are not trained to address mental illness and they do not conduct therapy.  

Pastor - Pastors are a valuable resource for many challenges that we struggle with within our lives. Pastors have typically had some formal training in marital, grief, family, addiction, and spiritual counseling.

One of the best places to start in your search to finding a professional and knowing their training and specialties is by using the Psychology Today database. It has a large database and a helpful filtering feature.

In conclusion, there are a lot of gray areas in the mental health world. The list above is just a guideline, not a definitive answer. Each professional can have a variety of different types of training under their belt. It may take a little "leg work" to find what's right for you, but it will be worth it in the end.


How Is Your Mental Fitness?

Join our mailing list and you will receive access to our Mental Toughness Assessment.