Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Mental health professionals

8-minute read

What are the types of mental health professionals

Many types of health professionals work in mental health care, including:

  • your doctor – general practitioners can diagnose and treat mental health disorders, as well as advise you and refer you to other mental health professionals
  • psychiatrists - these medical doctors have done specialised training in mental health – they can diagnose and treat mental illness, both with psychotherapy (talking therapies) and/or medication
  • mental health nurses - nurses with a specialist qualification in mental health; they help people work towards recovery from mental health issues
  • psychologists - provide treatment of mental health problems with psychotherapy; they are not medical doctors and can't prescribe medication
  • counsellors – these therapists help talk you through challenges in your life, in order to find solutions and to develop problem-solving skills
  • occupational therapists - help people be independent, develop coping strategies and overcome mental health issues
  • Community mental health workers - provide help and coordination in the community for people with mental health problems, who may also have other problems, such as substance abuse, poverty and social problems
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers – mental health workers who deliver care in a culturally appropriate way and who also provide cultural education to people outside the cultural community
  • mental health social workers - are trained in assessment and treatment of mental health issues and work with people who have mental health problems in a holistic practical way to manage social factors, such as housing, employment and relationships, to help them get well

Most mental health professionals have undergone years of study and training. They all have different skills to support your mental health. Some can diagnose mental health conditions, some can treat mental health problems using different types of psychotherapy and counselling, and some are able to prescribe medications. Some are involved in education or in organising care for people who have complex mental health needs.

Even within the same profession, different professionals can have different skills, specialties and different styles. For example, one psychiatrist may specialise in schizophrenia; another may specialise in eating disorders. Some counsellors specialise in a particular area, for example, drug or alcohol abuse, family therapy, or anxiety and depression.

How do I find a mental health professional?

If you're searching for help with a mental health problem, try talking to your doctor first. They can assess you, and can refer you to another health professional if needed. They will be able to suggest the best type of mental health professional to help you. In some cases, your doctor will treat you themselves. Here are some tips for talking to your doctor about mental health issues.

You need a referral from your doctor to see some health professionals, such as psychiatrists.

If you live in a rural or remote area, you may not have access to all the different types of mental health professionals. Talk to your doctor about whether online programs or therapies might help you. There are many online mental health resources that are backed up by contact from a mental health specialist.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What questions should I ask?

When choosing a health professional, ask questions such as:

  • What problems can they help me with?
  • What results can I expect?
  • What qualifications do they have?
  • How much will treatment cost?
  • Do I need a referral?
  • How often will I need appointments?
  • Are appointments available on days or at times that work for me?

Most types of health professionals must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency (AHPRA). You can check if a health professional requires registration and is registered or make a complaint about a health professional on the AHPRA website.

Counsellors and psychotherapists are not required to have completed any specific training, or to have any experience, to practise in Australia. They cannot register with AHPRA. But there are professional bodies in Australia for counsellors that guarantee that their members have met a certain level of training and experience, e.g. Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What can I expect when I visit a mental health professional?

At your first visit with a mental health professional, they will want to know what your symptoms are and what is concerning you. They will want to know your medical history. They will ask a number of questions, which might include:

  • why you have made an appointment
  • what you hope to achieve
  • whether you or anyone in your family has a history of mental illness, such as depression
  • whether you have had any previous mental health episodes
  • your relationship with your family and friends
  • your stress levels and any particular stressful events in your past
  • your feelings about your job and your relationships
  • whether you use drugs and how much alcohol you drink
  • the risk of you harming yourself or others
  • whether you have any other existing medical conditions

At the end of your visit, your health professional may be able to make a diagnosis, they may set up a management plan for the treatment of your mental health problem, or they may suggest you see another type of healthcare professional or someone who specialises in a particular area.

Do mental healthcare professionals keep things confidential?

Most conversations you have with a mental health professional will be confidential, and that confidentiality is protected by law in Australia. However, there are some things that they do not have to keep confidential – for example, if you are at risk of harm or there is a risk you may harm others. They may also have to report crimes, depending on what they are. You can always ask them about confidentiality before you start.

What if I need to change my mental health professional?

There are many reasons why you might want to change your health professional, such as:

  • you aren't feeling better
  • they are difficult to travel to or the appointment times don't suit
  • you just don't get on or they don't ‘get' you

It's a good idea to first talk to the person you're seeing. They might be able to change the appointment times or move the appointments to a different location.

If you decide to change, you can ask for your medical notes to be transferred to your new health professional. This will help your new health professional understand you better and it will make the transition easier. Don't be put off if the first person you try doesn't work out. It's worth persevering so you can get the right support.

What does it cost to see a mental health professional?

The cost of seeing a health professional depends on the type of health professional you see. Medicare covers some or all of the costs of using some mental health services.

If you have a diagnosed mental illness, your doctor can provide you with a mental health treatment plan . This provides a Medicare rebate for up to 20 sessions a year with some mental health specialists.

If a doctor or psychologist bulk bills, Medicare will cover the cost of the appointment. Otherwise, there will be a gap that you have to pay. Ask about fees up front.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Beyond Blue - Find a mental health professional

What’s the difference between a psychologist and counsellor? Learn what different professionals do and find mental health services near you.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

General Practitioner (GP) - Finding North

How can a GP help with mental health, how much they cost and what to consider when choosing a GP for mental health.

Read more on Finding North website

Getting help from a general practitioner (GP)

General practitioners (GPs) are doctors who are trained to help you with any type of physical or mental health issue.

Read more on headspace website

Mental health professionals & your teen | Raising Children Network

Expect mental health professionals for teens to be competent, skilled, knowledgeable and caring. These qualities underpin good professional relationships.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Support someone see a mental health professional - Beyond Blue

Get advice on how to support someone to seek a mental health professional for anxiety and depression: what to expect and how you can be involved.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Mental health professionals: Who's who? | Your Health in Mind

There are a range of professionals who can help with mental health issues. This guide cuts through the confusion.

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Mental health | Tasmanian Department of Health

About mental health and mental illness, including public system services in Tasmania. Find information for health professionals including training.

Read more on Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services website

Professional help | ReachOut Australia

Mental health professionals have trained for years to help people. When you're going through a tough situation, it helps to have someone in your corner who knows what to do.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Mental Health and Supported Decision Making

Mental Health and Supported Decision Making: Lived Experience Perspectives. Find out about what it is like to experience severe mental health problems by seeing and hearing people’s stories on film and audio-recording.

Read more on Healthtalk Australia website

Help from health professionals | Jean Hailes

Depending on your situation, you can get help from a range of health professionals. You might need help from a health professional if: your self-help…

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.