Many who are keen to try therapy often face the daunting task of finding the right practitioner for their specific needs in a sea of practitioners and confusing terminology. This article aims to clarify the terms you need to know, help you differentiate between the mental health professionals according to what you need, and provide you with tips on how to narrow down your choices to find the best fit for you.

Content:

  • Re-framing mental healthcare
  • Getting familiar with the terminology
  • 4 tips for finding the right practitioner for you

Reframing Mental Healthcare

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of mental wellbeing that enables people to cope with the stresses of life. This definition creates a rather limited impression of the scope of mental healthcare and those who seek it. It gives the impression that mental healthcare services are only for the mentally ill and those who are not strong enough to deal with life. No wonder there is a negative stigma surrounding those who seek help. It is time to change this definition!

To do this, let’s look at a more familiar term – physical health. Does taking care of your physical health mean that you are physically ill? Is it only for those who are physically unhealthy? Is taking care of your body a sign of weakness? Absolutely not!

You can take care of your body when it is unwell, work to maintain your current state of physical health, and strive for the next level of fitness. And, it is absolutely a good idea to seek professional expertise at any of these stages! There is no shame in going to a physician, nutritionist, or physical fitness trainer to take care of and improve your physical health. Indeed, people seeking help from these experts are making good use of the available resources to achieve their personal physical health goals.

Now, let’s look at our mental health the same way – a drive towards a healthier and more fulfilling state of being with ourselves, others, and the world around us. It isn’t just about getting out of extreme moods like anxiety or depression. It can also be about understanding ourselves better, learning to express our needs and feelings more healthily, or designing a more productive and fulfilling lifestyle. Within this framework, mental healthcare transforms into a supportive partner to anyone looking to improve their life. Therefore, people seeking help from these experts are making good use of the available resources to achieve their personal mental health goals.

So now, the question can change from “Why are you going to see a mental healthcare professional?” to “Whom do you seek help from?”

Unfortunately, those who are keen to try working with a mental health professional, face the daunting task of finding the right practitioner for their specific needs in a sea of practitioners and confusing terminology. Who is the right practitioner for you? Would you be looking for a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, a psychologist, or counsellor?

The aim of this article is to clarify the terms you need to know, help you differentiate between the mental health professionals according to what you need, and provide you with tips on how to narrow down your choices to find the best fit for you.

Getting Familiar with the Terminology

Psychology is the umbrella term that refers to all studies and practices related to the mind and behaviour. A psychologist can work in a variety of fields which include clinical psychology, sports psychology, organisational psychology, and educational psychology – just to name a few. The mental healthcare sector is a branch of psychology that focuses on the treatment of mental health issues and the support of mental wellness. When looking for a mental healthcare professional, one could be looking for a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or a counsellor. Each of these professionals has undergone different training and specialises in different skill sets.

What they have in common is that they have all been trained in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy refers to the conversational treatment method, or Talk Therapy, that most of us are familiar with from the movies and television shows. Forms, or modalities, of psychotherapy include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychoanalytic Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, Emotion-focused therapy, and Existential Therapy.

Psychotherapies have also been developed to cater to, not only the individual, but also to groups, couples, and families. Practitioners can choose to specialise in working with different populations, so do take note of what training your practitioner has undergone.

So now that the terminology is clearer, how do you decide whether to see a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, or a counsellor? In the next segment, we will figure out how to differentiate between these practitioners.

The Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialised in mental healthcare. They have received training in psychotherapy, administering assessments, and providing diagnoses. What sets psychiatrists apart is that they are, first and foremost, medical doctors and can prescribe medication. Although there are many exceptions, most psychiatrists in Singapore tend to rely more on pharmacological treatment rather than psychotherapy. This is often due to high caseloads and time constraints. People tend to look for psychiatrists when their psychological treatment requires pharmaceutical assistance. Conditions that greatly benefit from such medications include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and major depressive disorder. Medications prescribed can provide relief from severe symptoms such as hallucinations, manage extreme moods, and improve the individual’s ability to participate in psychotherapy. Generally, when seeing a psychiatrist, you will get a diagnosis and medication.

The Clinical Psychologist

Unlike the counsellor, the clinical psychologist has specialised clinical training and tends to focus more on psychopathology and the treatment of mental health disorders – anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, depressive disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and personality disorders. Generally, when seeing a clinical psychologist, you will receive a diagnosis and psychotherapy.

The Counsellor

Counsellors have completed an undergraduate degree in psychology or counselling, and a Masters in counselling. Counsellors tend to place greater importance on building a supportive and empowering relationship, and focus more on helping people address more general social and emotional issues – situations that make people feel overwhelmed or have a deep sense of distress. People tend to seek counselling for work/school stress, difficult life changes, relationship issues, addiction, career guidance, grief, complicated distressing emotions, or when they want to reach challenging personal growth goals. Generally, when seeing a counsellor, you will find a trusted and empathetic space to grow as a person.

With these differences highlighted, it would be important to note that in the private practice sector, many of the skill sets tend to overlap. For example, you can find clinical psychologists who are very dedicated to building strong and supportive relationships with their clients and working with clients beyond the scope of psychopathology. Conversely, you might find highly qualified counsellors who support clients with clinical disorders.

Hopefully, you now have an idea of which mental healthcare service would benefit you the most. It now comes down to finding the right practitioner for you.

4 Tips for Finding the Right Practitioner for You

  • Create a List of Practitioners

Once you have figured out what practitioner you need, a quick Google search of their title will provide you with a substantial list to choose from. It is recommended that you look for professionals who have their own website, just because these often provide more information on the practitioner and a better feel for their practice.

  • Create a List of Criteria for Selection

Next, you will want to place as many practitioners on your list as possible. An Excel sheet can be very helpful here. You will then want to highlight those practitioners who tick the most boxes for you. Although not exhaustive, a good list of things to look out for might include education, training, price, convenience, and gender of your practitioner.

Education: A general rule of thumb is for practitioners to have at least 6 years of education and at least 2 years of practical experience in the field. For counsellors and clinical psychologists, this would include a 4-year undergraduate study in psychology and a 2-year master’s degree in counselling and clinical psychology respectively. Following this, it would take 2 to 3 years of practicing in the field before they can become a registered practitioner with organisations such as the Singapore Association for Counselling or the Singapore Psychological Society. A psychiatrist would have completed their 8-year medical degree and a 4-year residency.

Training: Here you will want to match the practitioner’s training and experience to your needs. For example, if you are dealing with trauma, you will want to look for a practitioner who has completed training in trauma management/care. If you are looking for a couples therapist to do work as a couple, you would want to make sure that your practitioner has gone through training by the Gottman Institute.

Price: Prices can vary drastically depending on the practitioner’s educational background, years of practice, specialisation, and whether they work in private practice or for a government organisation. Generally, a psychiatrist would charge more than a clinical psychologist, and a clinical psychologist would charge more than a counsellor.

Here is a very rough guideline for hourly rates in Singapore Dollars (SGD):

  • Psychiatrists: $200 to $500+
  • Clinical Psychologist: $150 to 400+
  • Counsellors: $80 to $200+

You will also need to factor in how frequently you will need a session and over what duration of time. The frequency and duration of sessions will depend on the severity of the condition, how much support is needed, and what kind of support is needed. Some practitioners offer session packages for more long-term clients which can help to offset some of the cost.

Convenience:

  • Location: There are practices all over the country. In the long term, it is always better if your practitioner is not on the other side of the country. You don’t want to have to rush for a session or be in a stressed state at the beginning of the session. Being late or needing extra time to get into the right mindset can eat into your precious time – this may not be ideal especially if you have paid a substantial amount for the session.
  • Procedures: The focus should be on your treatment and not overcomplicated booking and payment procedures. Everything should feel easy, simple, and convenient to go through.

Gender: The gender of practitioner does not have any influence on their proficiency or efficacy. Some people, however, may feel more comfortable speaking with a particular gender. Your comfort is the top priority and it is, therefore, your right to choose a practitioner who makes you feel at ease from the start.

  • Ask if They Offer a Free Introductory Session

The idea of an introductory session is for you to experience a monetary risk-free opportunity to meet your practitioner, clarify any queries you may have, and see if the fit is right for you. If not, the practitioner can always advise you further.

Hirsch Therapy, for example, offers a 15-minute free introductory session over a video call. Here, you are most welcome to schedule it at your convenience and ask any questions you may have about the therapeutic process, their training and experience, and any other questions you may have. The goal of this service is to ensure that you get the help and support that you need.

  • Try a full session with your top 3 practitioners

This may sound counterintuitive to saving you money. However, this is a move that can save you money in the long run. Therapy can be a very new experience for most of us. And, because there is no absolute standard to how each practitioner practices, sample different approaches.

It is also very difficult to predict the dynamic that two people will have at any given point. The therapeutic relationship is the first and most crucial determinant of therapeutic success. With your practitioner, it is important that you feel that you can trust them, feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with them, feel heard and understood by them, respected by them, not judged by them, and feel confident in their ability to help you. Also, you can get a feel of the working space – does the clinic feel comfortable, safe, private, clean, and quiet enough for you to be open and vulnerable?

Hopefully, you are now all set to find the right practitioner for you.

In closing, we would like to wish you all the best in finding the right practitioner for you who can provide you with the help and support that you need to achieve your mental health goals.

If you have any further questions or doubts, the industry is filled with passionate professionals happy to share more. Please feel free to get in touch with us at any time!