The last few decades have seen a growing trend in people who have sought help for mental health and other interpersonal issues in  India.

Though there is some awareness regarding psychological issues, one of the major challenges people face in this regard is whom to approach for what sort of issues.

That there are multiple specialists (like in the medical field) for each branch of psychology is something that needs to be brought to attention for people in general.  One of the common misconceptions that exist is that a psychiatrist would be enough for all mental health issues. A common question I get asked as a counselling psychologist is why there is a need for multiple professionals when a psychiatrist can do all the jobs. Let’s break that down for you.

            Psychology is a field which attempts to understand and study the mind and behaviour of people. This field has more than 50 branches of psychology and is ever expanding. Some major branches include Industrial/ Organizational, Social, Cognitive and Abnormal Psychology. When it comes to specializations which deal with mental health, there are three major ones – Psychiatry, Clinical Psychology and Counselling Psychology. We will look at each one in detail. In today’s times, with the number of specialists increasing rapidly, these specialists may even super-specialise.


  1. Psychiatry: A psychiatrist is a licensed medical professional who has obtained an MD in Psychiatry from a medical college. This means they are doctors and can perform all functions associated with them. This mental health professional is preferred for when medications have to be prescribed or scans and tests need to be performed. They can also diagnose mental health disorders. Some psychiatrists have additional certifications in different therapies and therefore can perform the function of a clinical psychologist or a psychotherapist (psychologist who has certification in one or more types of psychological therapies).

    For example if someone suspects they or a family member/ friend is suffering from depression, they would go to a psychiatrist who would then conduct the appropriate medical tests and once they find out the root cause of this depression, can prescribe the appropriate medication for the person.

  2. Clinical Psychologist: These are psychologists who are not doctors in the medical sense but have a license from the Rehabilitation Council of India after completing a specialised clinical M.Phil. or Ph.D. programme. They specialise in providing diagnosis, conducting assessments and therapy for specific mental health disorders. A clinical psychologist does not prescribe medication but rather helps in treating people using a multitude of psychological therapies- as is appropriate for the current case. Most clinical psychologists tend to super specialise. This means they have a specific age group they would treat or a specific category of disorders they mostly get referred for. It’s important to note that they have undergone training to diagnose and treat any mental health disorder.

    An ideal situation involves a collaboration between a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist where they work together on treating people holistically.

  3. Counselling Psychologist: One of the most misunderstood specialists of mental health are counselling psychologists. A true counselling psychologist is someone who has at least a Masters degree in the field as well as extensive training in counselling skills and other psychological therapies. Counselling psychologists do not deal with moderate or severe levels of mental health issues though they may provide solutions for milder issues which may stem from stress. Counselling psychologists mainly work with dealing with interpersonal issues, skilling people and resolving any doubts and confusions they may have in general in life.

    This type of a psychologist can branch out into multiple super specializations like Education and Career Counselling, Family and Marital Counselling, Health Counselling, Rehabilitation Counselling etc.

Apart from the three above, we also have Clinical Social Workers who mainly perform assessments for diagnosis purposes and some Nursing schools also train their students to perform first level diagnosis and psychological first aid. Mental health professionals also make use of an extensive referral system i.e. in case you go to a specialist who doesn’t specialise in the issue you have, they will provide you details in regard to whom to contact further.

The above gives a bird’s eye view regarding the major specialists in India and who to approach for what issue. Awareness regarding the need for good mental health is growing and hopefully this offers clarity and help all of you to get on the path of being psychologically healthy!

Dr. Deepti Swamy (B.A., M.Sc., M.Phil., Ph.D)
Psychologist, Trainer and Researcher
I-dentitee LLP