A Path to Follow

What’s the Difference? Mental Health Professions Explained.

Where to turn when we require professional mental health support?


Many people are becoming more and more aware to attend their GP in the first instance when seeking professional mental health support.  This is a great practice we encourage in terms of initially looking after one’s mental wellbeing.  I think we can also confidently say that your GP will, most likely, complete a mental health care plan and a referral to a Psychologist.  Again, potentially, another very good step.  However, it also depends on your GP’s knowledge, experience and connections to the mental health services around them.  Without knowledge and connection to the right provider, you might be end up having to source your own Psychologist.

We want you to know, while Psychological Therapy may be the correct service type for you, there are also many other alternatives. This post explores the true diverse nature of services available, the differences between them and how to check professional registration and rebate statuses of those you are looking to work with.

Each day we will introduce a different mental health support type to you. It is important for you to know each profession so you can make an informed decision about the care of yourself or a loved one.

At A Path To Follow, we support communities members to find and engage in specialised mental health support. Please reach out if you require support with finding an appropriate and reputable mental health specialist for your or someone you know.


A Psychologist is a professional trained in the science of how people think, feel, behave and learn. Psychologists work to assess and provide therapy for people struggling with mental health or psychological issues by helping them to understand how their own brains work and its relationship to their feelings and behaviours. Psychologists are regulated in Australia, meaning that for someone to call themselves a Psychologist they must be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia and be listed with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. (APHRA) A registered Psychologist will have had 6 years minimum university training and supervised experience.  They can be general providers, with sound knowledge across a broad range of mental health challenges and/or illnesses, or they may specialise in a certain area or areas.  A Clinical Psychologist will attained further qualifications to enable them to participate in research, teaching supervision, etc.  In practical terms their therapy is based in session to session talking, without their role extending to outside session work on behalf or for the client.  For more information on the different forms of Psychology, see here.

Medicare and Private Health

Psychologists offer Medicare rebates. The gap (amount you will pay), will vary from professional to professional.  Some may offer Bulk Billing if you hold a Health Care Card or Pension or can prove financial hardship.

Private Health: Check your fund, type and level of cover.


A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has undergone additional training to be qualified to practice Psychiatry and must be registered with the Medical Board of Australia via APHRA.  They have the capacity to complete thorough Assessments, especially for those more serious and complex mental health challenges. A person may have both a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist as part of their care team. While the Psychiatrist may prescribe and manage medication, the Psychologist may use evidence based talking therapy models to assist the client.

Medicare and Private Health

Psychiatrists offer Medicare rebates. The gap (amount you will pay), will vary from professional to professional.  Some may offer Bulk Billing if you hold a Health Care Card or Pension or can prove financial hardship.

Private Health: Check your fund, type and level of cover.

Social Worker

Social Workers are trained at university in human behaviour, families, social justice and human rights. They can assist people with a range of challenges that may come about for reasons other than mental health challenges. At this stage Social Work is not a registered industry in Australia at the moment. There is a peak body, Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), but membership with this body is voluntary. At the very least we advise people to ask if their Social Worker would be “eligible” to become a member with the AASW; this ensures they meet the same requirements that paying members have to. Social Workers can provide counselling to individuals in addition to advocacy, referrals and the coordination of services for their clients.

Medicare and Private Health                                                                                                                                              No, not at this time.                                                                                                                                   

Mental Health Social Worker

A Mental Health Social Worker is a Social Worker with additional qualifications in mental health that prepares them to deal with issues relating specifically to mental health challenges and/or illness. Mental Health Social Workers generally have experience in assessing and diagnosing people experiencing mental health related stress and other life challenges.  Mental Health Social Workers are accredited via AASW.

Medicare Yes

Private Health No



A Counsellor works with clients to promote mental health and wellbeing, enhance self-understanding and resolve identified concerns via talking therapy. In Australia you do not have to be registered to practice and there are many different counselling qualifications available. We recommend that you check if your Counsellor has completed a postgraduate qualification in counselling (this tells us they have completed additional training).  We also suggest you look at to see if your Counsellor is registered with The Australian Register of Counsellors & Psychotherapists.   Counsellors registered with bodies like PACFA and Australian Counselling Association (who are listed on the above register) are expected to participate in ongoing professional development and supervision, including their own counselling, to stay current with developments in their profession and to ensure safe, ethical practice.

Medicare and Private Health                                                                                                                                           


Youth Worker

Youth Workers assess individual clients’ needs and offer practical supports a young person might need. They may refer to rehabilitative, counselling and/or support services for young people, help them get connected to a GP or remain engaged in education. Youth Workers are usually employed in youth related services, rather than in stand alone businesses. They often have the ability to outreach to education and other public settings. Youth Workers do not have to hold tertiary level qualifications but can attain a diploma level qualifications via a TAFE like environment. We suggest you see if your Youth Worker is registered with the Youth Workers Association.


Medicare and Private  Health                                                                                                                                                                                          No


Hypnosis, also known as Hypnotherapy, involves inducing a trance or dream like state of relaxation that is used to treat a variety of disorders. By deliberately inducing this relaxing state the brain is far more open to therapeutic suggestion and can have positive effect on attitudes, perceptions and behaviours.  Hypnosis is a self-regulated profession and is often referred to as a “complementary” health service. It can be of assistance with issues such as giving up smoking or losing weight. Hypnosis is a practice that attracts strong views; either for or against. We prefer to not buy into that and suggest you check if your Hypnotherapist is registered with Hypnotherapy Council of Australia. This ensures some professional development occurs and regulates practice for those who register with them.


Where performed by a professional who is eligible for Medicare already, hypnosis may be eligible in some instances for rebate. Check with professional.

Private Health

Check your fund, type and level of cover (there are a limited number of funds who cover hypnosis at present time).

Mental Health Nurse

A Mental Health Nurse is a registered medical nurse who specializes in working with people who have mental health challenges and/or illness. Mental Health Nurses complete further study that is recognized by the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses. A mental health nurse helps their patients to manage their lives and the different aspects within mental health, but also physical, social, cultural and spiritual needs. Mental health nurses can help in providing a plan for recovery, help in education of mental illness and treatments, support meetings with doctors and other health professionals and link with other mental health supports. Mental Health Nurses can work within hospital, private or community settings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Medicare and Private Health

Mental Health Nurses can offer Medicare rebates in many circumstances. Some may offer Bulk Billing if you hold a Health Care Card or Pension or can prove financial hardship.

Private Health


Mental Health Peer Worker or Mentor

A Mental Health Peer Worker/Mentor is someone employed based on their personal lived experience of mental health challenges and recovery and/or their experience of supporting family/friends with their mental health journeys. Currently Peer Work is not a regulated profession in Australia and in some states, there are even no frameworks or guidelines provided.

With the Royal Commission Into Mental Health Report about to be released early in 2021, I expect this will change. What can you do to try and ensure your Peer is safe, professional and has the experience required?  If they are part of a reputable organisation, the organisation will have made sure they have the appropriate training, experience and support. You can still ask the following questions (which I recommend for private peer workers) to them, this is up to you.

What framework is your Peer business based on? Here you are looking at something like a Intentional Peer Support Framework or a Recovery Orientated framework.

What qualifications do you hold?  Here you are looking for a tertiary degree in a mental health related field, plus some lived experience training OR a diploma qualification and some lived experience training. Lived Experience training might be termed “Peer Support” or “Lived Experience” training. Any additional training, such as Mental Health First Aid, Emotional CPR, etc, is a bonus.

What do you do to maintain your own wellbeing when working with people who have mental health challenges?  Here you are looking for professional supervision at a very minimum.

What legislation, etc, is a crucial part of your business?  Apart from the basics of Privacy, OHS, etc. You would like to know that your Peer knows about legislation such as the Mental Health Act, Informed Consent, Disability Act.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading our explanations of the different Mental Health Professions. Please know that we did our research, but the above descriptions are ours. Thanks to Kyle for his research of the professions. Did we miss one you would like to share?  If so, let us know.

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