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Mental health professionals

Kaimahi ngaio hauora ā-hinengaro

Mental health professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors. Mental health professionals work with people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They understand our emotions, feelings, thoughts and how the brain works. They can treat mental illness with psychological treatments (talking therapies). Psychiatrists understand the links between mental and physical problems. They can prescribe medications for mental health issues. These include antidepressants and mood stabilisers.

Psychologists also understand our emotions, feelings, thoughts and how the brain works. There are many psychology specialties. Psychologists who work with mental illnesses are clinical psychologists. Like psychiatrists, clinical psychologists treat mental illness with psychological treatments (talking therapies). But psychologists cannot prescribe medications.

Psychotherapists treat people with talking therapy. They help people with long-term therapy for mental illnesses like depression and psychosis. They also help with deep-rooted issues like childhood trauma, addictions and compulsions.

Counsellors also use talking therapy. They usually specialise in day-to-day issues. These can include couples counselling, addictions counselling and workplace counselling.

If you are not sure which type of health professional to see, ask your general practice team.

What mental health professionals do

Mental health professionals can help you with mental illnesses. Including, addiction, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, psychosis and stress.

They can also help with issues like grief, relationship problems, work issues, parenting and abuse. Also, self-esteem problems and life changes such as a new baby or divorce.

Finding a mental health professional

Your general practice team will normally refer you to a psychiatrist if you need to see one. You can also find a psychiatrist on Healthpoint.

Your general practice team might be able to help you find a clinical psychologist. You can also search for a clinical psychologist on the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists website or Healthpoint.

You can find a psychotherapist or counsellor through the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) or the Family Services Directory. Healthpoint can also help you find a psychotherapist or counsellor.

Some employers offer employee assistance programmes (EAP). An EAP is a confidential service that your employer pays for. The programme has qualified, registered and experienced professionals. They can help you and your immediate whānau (family) with issues that may be affecting your wellbeing or your ability to do your job. Talk to your manager or human resources representative about whether your employer offers an EAP.

Qualifications and training

Psychiatrists are medical doctors so they must complete a 6-year medical degree. After graduation, they must work for at least 1 year to gain further medical training. They must then complete at least 3 years of basic psychiatry training. Then 2 years of advanced psychiatry training.

After this, psychiatrists are awarded a fellowship of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

Psychologists have at least 6 years of university training and supervised experience. They may also have a master's or doctorate degree in psychology. Clinical psychologists need a master's degree in psychology. They also need a postgraduate diploma or doctorate in clinical psychology.

Psychologists need to be registered with the New Zealand Psychologists Board.

Psychotherapists need to be registered with the Psychotherapists Board of Aotearoa New Zealand. There are 2 ways for psychotherapists to get registered. One is with a recognised qualification, like a master's degree or diploma in psychotherapy. The other way is to be assessed by the board. The board makes sure the applicant meets the requirements. These include psychotherapy skill, knowledge, professional development and psychotherapy qualifications.

Anyone can set themselves up as a counsellor. But most employers require their counsellors to be members of relevant professional bodies. Or working towards membership. Full members of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors must have at least a level 6 diploma. They also need at least 500 hours of supervised clinical practice.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2023.


See also:

Migrant & refugee services & support

Page reference: 428427

Review key: HIHMI-138165