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Defintions of Mental Health Professionals

Mental/Emotional Health Care Professionals: Definitions

GP - General Practitioner

Often it is the GP who individuals first consult when they are worried about either physical or mental health or a concern about something relating to their everyday emotional lives such as stress, bereavement, depression etc. Often physical and mental/emotional issues are related and can become confused. A GP is a doctor who, as the name suggests, deals with all conditions as a ‘starting point’ and is trained to diagnose conditions, give help and information, prescribe medication and make referrals, for example, to specialist services such as psychotherapists/counsellors, psychiatrists and other mental health services.

General Practitioners are employed by the National Health Service, see and usually work as a team along with other Health professionals in a Health Centre. You need to be registered with a Health Centre in the locality in which you are living. Students living on the University campus should see .

Psychotherapist /Counsellor

Psychotherapists and counsellors have specialist training in one of the psychotherapies. For most people, the term counsellor or psychotherapist is interchangeable. There are many different schools of psychotherapy but the main approaches are psychodynamic, person centred, cognitive behavioural and integrative. Psychotherapy and counselling are often referred to as the ‘talking therapies’ because they are a way of talking that can help individuals to become more self aware, to learn more about themselves in relationship, to manage thought patterns and to understand and modify their behaviour. The process can help individuals to work through and make sense of problems and this can help to relieve symptoms.

Psychotherapists and counsellors respect the uniqueness of individuals and do not offer advice. Put simply, all counsellors/psychotherapists will help individuals, through discussion, to understand what is going on for them, enabling them to make changes for themselves. Counsellors/psychotherapists are bound by their professional associations to adhere to a strict confidentiality code. See ,

Psychotherapists/counsellors do not all work in the same way. Indeed it could be argued that each relationship between therapist and client* is unique whatever their approach. The relationship forms part of the therapy and therapists welcome questions about how they work and are open to discussing whether they are the right person to help.

*client is the preferred term in counselling/psychotherapeutic relationships

The following gives a short overview of the four main theoretical approaches used by counsellors/psychotherapists based on the definitions given in the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy website.

Psychodynamic –This approach stresses the importance of the unconscious and past experience in determining current behaviour. The client is encouraged to talk about childhood relationships with parents and other significant people and the therapist focuses on the client/therapist relationship (the dynamics) and in particular on the transference. Transference is when the client projects onto the therapist, feelings experienced in previous significant relationships. The psychodynamic approach is derived from psychoanalysis.

Humanistic – The main approaches under this heading are Person centred, Gestalt and Transactional Analysis

Person centred – Devised by Carl Rogers and also called ‘client centred’ counselling, this approach is based on the assumption that an individual (client), seeking help with the resolution of a problem he (or she) is experiencing, can enter into a relationship with another individual (counsellor) who is sufficiently accepting and permissive to allow the client to freely express emotions and feelings. This will enable the client to come to terms with negative feelings, which may have caused emotional problems, and develop inner resources. The objective is for the client to become able to perceive himself as a person, with the power and freedom to change.

Cognitive Behavioural therapy The basis of CBT is that, what people think affects how they feel emotionally and can alter what they do. During times of emotional distress the way a person sees and judges themselves and the things that happen to them alters. CBT therapists aim to work jointly with the person to help them begin to identify and change extreme thinking and unhelpful behaviour. It is thought to be particularly effective for stress related ailments, phobias, obsessions, eating disorders and (at the same time as drug treatment) severe depression.

Integrative –This is where several distinct models of counselling and psychotherapy are used together in a converging way rather than in separate pieces.

For further information on all of these theoretical approaches and others, see and/or a booklet produced by Mind, which is available to read in the Learning grid and the Bio Med grid.


A psychiatrist is a doctor specialising in mental health and may think of mental distress in terms of disordered brain chemistry. The psychiatrist is trained to deal with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders and may prescribe medication. In many cases they arrange a ‘package of care’ for an individual. This care might include clinical psychologists, counsellors/psychotherapists, community psychiatric nurses (CPN) or rarely, residential care.

Some psychiatrists will have undertaken further study in one of the psychotherapeutic disciplines alongside their medical training but most will refer patients to psychotherapists/counsellors if a ‘talking’ therapy is indicated.



Psychologist is a generic term and can cover many different specialisms. A psychologist will have a degree in psychology but will not usually have a formal training in psychotherapy/counselling. See

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists are psychologists who undertake further training in working with people who experience mental health problems or psychological distress. They offer talking therapies and do not prescribe medication. Their training covers a range of approaches and they may specialise in one approach or integrate several. 

Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN)

CPN’s usually work as a team in a Community Health Service or GP practice and may act as an ongoing ‘contact’ point for someone under the care of a psychiatrist. They are trained to access and work with patients in the community and can administer but not prescribe medication. Many are trained to provide cognitive behavioural therapy as part of the ongoing support they give.

For further information, the following websites are an excellent source, full of interesting and relevant information, clearly written and user friendly with useful links to other helpful websites. - most of the information is available in print down form and some pages are available in Chinese and French

The university employs student Mental Health Co-ordinators. They are available for advice, information and support.