When it comes to mental health practitioners, there is usually a bit more confusion from patients and practitioners alike with respect to how they all integrate into healthcare, and how you can access these services and which practitioner may be best suited for the needs of the patient.

Although there is significant overlap between the scopes of Family Doctors, Psychiatrists, Registered Social Workers, Psychologists and counsellors, there are some important distinctions too, including payment and insurance coverage.

Either way – all their goals are the same, but the way you can use these resources may differ, so this article will try to help guide you if you or a loved one are seeking mental health support.

Family Doctors (MD)

Family doctors, or general practitioners can screen for mental health symptoms, and diagnose if appliable. They can also prescribe medications where necessary.

Their individual familiarity with mental health may differ but most will refer to a psychiatrist, other community resources, and/or psychotherapy.

Family doctors are regulated by the College of Family Physicians. Their services are covered through OHIP in ontario [1].


family doctors

Psychiatrists (MD)

Psychiatrists are also medical doctors, but they specialize in mental health and mental illness. They are also able to make a diagnosis and prescribe medications. Psychiatrists tend to integrate psychotherapy into their practice [1].

Psychiatrists may also specialize in a particular aspect of mental health (such as anger, eating disorders, OCD, depression etc).

Psychiatrists are regulated by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Referral is required to see a psychiatrist, but since they are covered by OHIP, there tends to be length wait times to get an appointment.


Registered Social Workers (MSW, RSW)

Social workers can take on a wide range of roles – but those social workers in a clinical setting are often involved in the assessment and treatment of an individuals biological, psychological, social, emotional, and cultural needs. Social workers may work with individuals, families, groups or communities to enhance their individual or collective well-being. They often earn additional training or certifications in various therapeutic treatments such as CBT, DBT,EMDR, ACT. A Registered Social worker also has a master’s degree in social work, after a 4-year Bachelor’s degree.

Registered Social Workers can assess and manage based on a clinical diagnosis, but they cannot make a formal diagnosis, nor prescribe pharmaceutical medications. They are regulated in Ontario by the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Services Workers  (OCSWSSW) [1].

To learn more about Registered Social Work – please click here.

To learn more about our Registered Social Worker, Joan Chambers, please click here.

Registered Social worker

Psychologists (C. Psych) and Psychological Associates (C.Psych.Assoc)

Psychologists and Psychological Associates also work through psychotherapy to assist their clients in managing their mental well-being. Education and training requirements vary based on your jurisdiction but in Ontario they have completed a master’s in psychology, followed by 4 years of experience working in the field of psychology [1].

Psychologists are regulated by the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO). They can provide a diagnosis but cannot prescribe medications. Their services are usually covered by benefits.



Registered Psychotherapists (RP or RP(Q))

They specialize in providing counseling on interpersonal, social, and psychological obstacles. There is training and regulation at a provincial level. They will speak about various aspects of mental health with their clients.

Psychotherapists are regulated by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). They are unable to provide diagnosis or prescribe medications, but they can still assist in managing a wide range of mental health concerns. Since they are a newer professional college, they are covered by some employee benefit plans, but not as commonly as Registered Social Workers or psychologists [1].





Counselling is also a wide range of services. Counselling is for anyone struggling with a personal concern. In Canada counselling and psychotherapy are often interrelated. Both intend to help a person change themselves or their mindset in some way. Counsellors can include the practitioners listed above, but may also include providers who are not licenced or regulated.


Interested in learning more?

Read on in our series of articles on Mental Health Counselling!

About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera

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Dr. Johann is a licensed naturopathic doctor and co-owner of Absolute Health and Wellness. He completed his 4-year degree at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). His clinical focus lies in chronic disease, such as those related to the Gastrointestinal, Endocrine, and Immune Systems.

His approach to medicine relies on working with the patient to come up with a feasible, multi-factorial approach that addresses all complaints at once. He employs a strong background in diagnostic medicine and human physiology and pathology to diagnose and treat. His treatment involve a combination of nutritional counselling, botanical medicine, eastern medicine (acupuncture), nutraceutical supplementation and hands on physical medicine.

To book in please call us at (519) 442-2206 or click here.

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