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Mental health professionals

Mental health professionals

Mental health conditions can be complicated to treat because they can impact on a wide range of issues, such as housing, employment, relationships, and physical wellbeing.

As a result, there are a number of different mental healthcare professionals, each with their own specialised expertise, who may be involved in caring for someone with a mental health condition. Some of these healthcare professionals are described below. 


Your GP will often be your first point of contact with mental healthcare services. It is estimated that people with emotional or psychological conditions make up between a quarter and a third of a GP's workload.

GPs can make an initial assessment of a mental health condition, prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants and, if necessary, arrange referrals to other treatments and services, such as counselling. 

Community mental health nurse

A community mental health nurse (CMHN), also sometimes known as a community psychiatric nurse, is a registered nurse with specialist training in mental health. Some CMHNs are attached to GP surgeries, or community mental health centres, while others work in psychiatric units.

CMHNs have a wide range of expertise. They can provide counselling, offer advice and support to people with long-term mental health conditions, and administer medication.

Some CMHNs specialise in treating certain people, such as children, older people, or people with a drug or alcohol addiction. 

Clinical psychologists

Clinical psychologists are healthcare professionals who specialise in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions. They often work in combination with other mental health care professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team. 


Psychiatrists are qualified medical doctors who have done further training in treating mental health conditions. Psychiatrists are not just based in hospitals, but can have close links with GP's surgeries and community mental health centres.

As psychiatrists are medical doctors they can prescribe medication, which is not the case with psychologists (though a psychologist can make recommendations to your GP.) 

Child psychologists and psychiatrists

There are also psychologists and psychiatrists who specialise in working with children and young people.

These professionals can help treat mental health and behavioural conditions that can affect children, such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

They can also help children and young people who have experienced traumatic events that they are having difficulties coming to terms with, such as bereavement, bullying, or a past history of abuse. 

Educational psychologist

Educational psychologists also work with children and young people, although sometimes adults can also benefit from their expertise.

An educational psychologist’s role is to assist children and young people who are having trouble progressing with their education due to emotional, psychological, or behavioural factors, such as having a learning difficulty, or a pattern of disruptive behaviours. 


Counsellors are trained to provide talking therapies that aim to help people to cope better both with their life and their mental health condition. Most counsellors specialise in a specific type of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 


Psychotherapists have a similar role to counsellors, but they usually have more extensive training, and are also often qualified psychologists or psychiatrists. Psychotherapy tends to be a longer and more intense process than counselling. 

Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists who specialise in mental health provide training, support, and advice to help someone with a mental health condition reach their maximum level of functioning and independence for day-to-day living. This may include areas such as:

  • personal independence,
  • communication skills,
  • self confidence,
  • employment,
  • social and leisure activities, and
  • interpersonal relationships 

Social workers

Social workers are often used to bridge the gap between mental health services and the wider social service provision. They can provide advice on a variety of practical issues, such as benefits, housing, day care, and training. 

Approved mental health workers

An approved mental health worker is a mental health worker who has received special training to provide help and give assistance to people who are being treated under the 1983 Mental Health Act. Their functions can include helping to assess whether a person needs to be compulsorily detained (sectioned) as part of their treatment.

An approved mental health worker is also responsible for ensuring that the human and civil rights of a person being detained under the Mental Health Act are respected and upheld. 

The Mental Health Act (1983)

The Mental Health Act (1983) is the main piece of legislation that covers the assessment, treatment, and rights of people with a mental health condition.

Under the terms of the Mental Health Act, a person can only be compulsory admitted to hospital, or other mental health facility, if:

  • they have a mental disorder of a nature or degree that makes admission to hospital appropriate, and
  • they should be detained in the interests of their own safety and/or for the protection of others.

Two doctors need to agree on the above assessment. Depending on the nature of the mental disorder, and the associated individual circumstances, the length of time a person can be compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act can be:

  • 72 hours,
  • 28 days,
  • or six months.

After each of these time periods have elapsed, an assessment will be carried out to determine whether it is safe for the person to be discharged, or whether further treatment is required.

If you are held under the Mental Health Act you can be treated against your will because it is felt you do not have sufficient capacity to make an informed decision about your treatment.

However, certain treatments, such as brain surgery, cannot be carried out unless you provide your consent.

Any person who is compulsorily detained has the right to appeal against the decision to a Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT). A MHRT is an independent body that decides whether a patient should be discharged from hospital.

For more information about the Mental Health Act visit the directgov website.


Page last reviewed: 12/09/2011

Next review due: 12/09/2013

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