Finding Help

man with head in his handsWhat’s the difference between a social worker, case manager, psychologist, and psychiatrist? Are you confused about where to get help? Learn who to go to for what problem.

Here Are Some Questions That Family Members Often Ask

Who can tell me what the problem is?

Finding out the name for the problem (a diagnosis) is usually done by a psychiatrist or a psychologist. These professionals have special training in the area of mental health. Your family doctor may be the first one to suggest a mental health problem, but it’s best to go to someone who specializes in this area.

Who can prescribe medicine?

Only your family doctor or a psychiatrist can prescribe medicine. A psychiatrist is likely to know the most about medications for mental health problems. Your family doctor might be able to document side effects and track whether the medicine is working.

How do I find a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

Your family doctor can refer you to a psychiatrist. You can also ask your family doctor for suggestions on where to find other help.
To find a psychologist, visit the Ontario Psychological Association’s website and use their referral service or phone 1-800-268-0069. If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at your work, you can ask them for help.

Where can I get counselling?

Counselling can be offered at many places:

  • In a private practice
  • At a hospital or clinic
  • At a community agency
  • At schools, churches or workplaces

Counsellors are often called therapists, social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists. Each of these professionals has a specialty area, so it’s wise to educate yourself about their roles. Anyone can call himself or herself a counsellor or therapist, so you need to ask about qualifications and membership to professional organizations.

The Regulated Health Professions ACT (RHPA) of 1993 makes sure that certain professionals are governed and live up to set standards. Psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers are all regulated professions and must belong to a regulatory body.

See or contact some regulated professional colleges to learn more:

  • College of Psychologists of Ontario 1-800-489-8388 or
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons 1-800-268-7096 or
  • College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers 1-877-828-9380 or
  • College of Nurses of Ontario 1-800-387-5526 or

Some counsellors might belong to voluntary associations but these are not the same as the regulated professional organizations just listed. A qualified counsellor should have at least 4 years of university, and formal training in counselling.

Where can my family member get an “assessment” done?

People sometimes need special testing for things like going to court or for showing they can take care of their children. These assessments can be done by psychiatrists or psychologists. Usually, a psychologist is the one who does “psychological testing.”

Who can help with organizing all the help my family needs?

Social workers, social service workers, or case managers often do this job. Organizations like CMHA ( usually have these kinds of workers, or they can help you find them.

If your loved one has been in the hospital, usually a social worker can meet with you to help make connections in the community.

Social workers or case managers are often the ones to help with practical matters such as filling out forms, finding a place to live, getting back to school, or getting into other helpful programs.

Who will pay for these services?

Psychiatrists are paid for by provincial health plans (like OHIP).

The workers your family member sees in the hospital often do not charge you for their services. Most community agencies get money from the government or other funders, so they can offer their services for free or for a low price. Ask if you qualify for free service.

Counsellors and psychologists in private practice charge a fee. This may be covered through private or work health plans if you have them. These professionals may also have a sliding scale, and you may be eligible for reduced rates. Ask.

What other services can help?

Many different services are available, and every community is different.
You may be able to find some of the following in your community:

  • Employment help
  • Life skills training
  • Leisure activities
  • Peer support groups
  • Counselling for families

There might be specialized services for dealing with other problems, for example,

  • Nursing services
  • Addictions
  • Legal issues
  • Learning problems

Some people benefit from a variety of people helping them. The important thing is to build a support network that works for your family.