Who’s Who In Mental Health


Your child’s GP is typically the first point of contact if you are concerned by your child’s mental health. When you see a GP, they will take time to listen to your concerns, ask about your child’s physical and emotional symptoms, and offer you advice and treatment options. They are able to diagnose some mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety and may make a referral to a specialist such as a psychiatrist or your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for further assessment. Additionally, your child’s GP may be able to refer your child for therapy through the NHS. However, waiting lists for mental health support and assessments through the NHS can often take several months. GPs are able to write referrals which are accepted by private clinicians.


CAMHS stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Although private clinics may offer a ‘CAMHS service’, the term usually refers to the local NHS service providing free assistance to children and young people who are experiencing mental health, emotional or behavioural difficulties. CAMHS offer treatment and support, including therapy, medication, hospitalisation and parenting support courses. Additionally, CAMHS teams can diagnose conditions such as autism, ADHD, eating and personality disorders. These teams consist of various specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses, social workers, and other professionals who are experienced in working with children and families.

A referral for a CAMHS assessment can come from a GP, school or parent however waiting lists for an initial NHS CAMHS assessment can take several months. An initial assessment typically covers questions around your child’s emotional well-being, behaviours, relationships, and any specific difficulties they may be experiencing. The assessment covers various aspects of their life, including family dynamics, school environment, social interactions, and any relevant medical or developmental history.


Psychologists explore how people think, feel and interact with their environment and with each other. The British Psychological Society (BPS) along with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) sets training and practice standards for psychologists to help improve the wellbeing of the people they work with. Becoming a psychologist in the UK involves several years of study, including a 3 year doctorate involving research and placements in a variety of settings. Although psychologists can assess and diagnose, they cannot prescribe medication.

Psychologists specialise in different fields. Here are some common fields for psychologists to specialise in:

Educational Psychologist

An educational psychologist specialises in how learning happens. They can assess people to identify their strengths, weaknesses and any underlying developmental issues that may impact their learning, behaviour and social adjustment.

An educational psychologist undergoes specialised training in child development, the psychology of learning & teaching, promoting emotional wellbeing in children & young people, and the psychological aspects of educating children with special educational needs. They also receive training in understanding how groups function and effective communication. Additionally, educational psychologists liaise with parents and schools so that the home and classroom environment supports the specific strengths and challenges of the person they are working with.

A parent may consult with an educational psychologist to help their child with:

  • problem solving
  • communication
  • memory
  • study skills
  • understanding feelings
  • understanding behaviour
  • relationships
  • social adjustment

Counselling Psychologists & Clinical Psychologists

Counselling and clinical psychology share many similarities, but traditionally have had different focuses and training. Whilst both counselling and clinical psychologists can assess and diagnose, counselling psychologists tend to work with people who are generally healthy but may be struggling with life issues, while clinical psychologists work with individuals who have more severe mental health difficulties. However both types of psychologists often work with similar patients and in similar settings, so the distinction between them is becoming increasingly smaller.

Clinical psychology training places a greater emphasis on diagnosing mental health disorders by using assessments such as tests, observations, and interviews. Clinical psychologists use their expertise in theory, neuroscience and clinical knowledge to better understand their clients’ psychology and help them improve their quality of life.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health illnesses and emotional disorders. After completing medical school, they undergo a further 6 years in psychiatry training where they can specialise in areas such as working with children, addictions, learning and emotional disorders. Although some psychiatrists are trained to deliver psychotherapy, psychiatrists typically cost hundreds of pounds an hour and so it is far more common to receive therapy from a therapist whom the psychiatrist can liaise with.

It is a legal requirement to be accredited with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to practise as a psychiatrist in the UK. You can tell if someone is accredited if they have the letters FRCPsych or MRCPsych (Fellow/Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) after their names. To find out more information about a psychiatrist, such as their area of expertise, you can consult the UK medical register.


A psychotherapist is a professional trained to help people improve their well-being by talking in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Some therapy types (such as psychodynamic therapy) tend to focus on the past (to explore how this impacts the present and to help bring a sense of closure). Some (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) are more future focused and create goals around thinking habits. Others (such as systemic family therapy) focus on relationship dynamics and the impact people have on each other.

Therapists tend to specialise in a specific type of therapy but may integrate other approaches depending on their client’s needs.

Accreditation: You may have seen terms such as UKCP or BACP next to a therapist’s name. This means they meet professional standards in training and practice as set by an independent organisation. For example, UKCP training typically takes 3-6 years and requires members to have at least 450 hours of practice & theory; undergo personal therapy throughout their training and regularly attend additional training to maintain their accreditation. Additionally, being accredited means the therapist regularly meets with a supervisor. Supervision is an opportunity for the therapist to reflect on their client work, ensuring they are providing a safe and professional service rather than projecting their own preferences on their client.

CBT Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on thinking habits. CBT is based on the idea that negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings and negative behaviours, and that by changing those negative thoughts, one can improve their emotional well-being and behaviour.

Rather than exploring the past, CBT focuses on the present experience. CBT often involves setting structured, measurable goals which are typically effective within a limited number of sessions (usually between 6-20 depending on the severity of the issue).

The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) is one of the leading accrediting bodies ensuring that CBT therapists maintain professional standards. If you think your teenager could benefit from CBT therapy, you can ask your GP for a referral to a local CBT therapist or contact your local CAMHS team for advice. The BABCP also maintains a register where one can find accredited CBT therapists.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy explores the mind’s lived experience, which is viewed as ‘dynamic’, holding an inner world of multiple – even conflicting – feelings at the same time. With it’s psychoanalytic roots, a key idea in psychodynamic theory is that past experiences shape how we feel and interact, including defence mechanisms that influence behaviour.

A psychodynamic therapist uses the therapy space to shine light on defence mechanisms by exploring how the client responds when interacting with the therapist within the safe holding environment of the therapy room. By building awareness of these defence mechanisms, the client and therapist can work together to develop more functional coping strategies and live more in the present.

Psychodynamic therapy is often provided over a few months or even years.

Systemic Therapy (Family Therapy)

Systemic therapy creates a safe space to explore how behaviour and emotions are influenced by relationships. In systemic therapy, the therapist works collaboratively with the family to identify patterns of behaviour that may be causing problems, and to develop strategies to improve communication and relationships. This may involve exploring each family member’s perspective and understanding of the situation, and working towards a shared understanding and agreement on how to move forward.

During a session, a systemic therapist may use a variety of techniques, such as role-play, problem-solving, and reframing. Role-play can help family members practise communicating and interacting with each other in a more effective way. Problem-solving can help family members work together to identify solutions to specific issues that are causing conflict or stress. Reframing involves helping family members to see things from a different perspective, which can help to shift their understanding of a situation and improve relationships. Outside of the session, family members may be given homework or tasks to practise the skills learned in therapy.

The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice (AFT) works together with the UKCP to set standards for systemic training in the UK. You can find AFT trained therapists on the UKCP directory – (full instructions here).

Person-centred Counselling

Counselling and therapy are terms that are often used interchangeably to describe a process of talking to a professional about personal or emotional issues. However, psychotherapy tends to be a more in-depth and longer-term process that explores underlying patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that may be contributing to a person’s difficulties.

Counselling on the other hand tends to focus on specific issues that a person is currently experiencing, such as anxiety, depression, grief or relationship problems. The goal of counselling is to help the individual gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and to develop strategies for coping with their current difficulties. Person-centred counselling takes a non-directive approach. This means that the counsellor must not direct or guide the client towards a particular course of action or decision, but rather facilitate the client’s own self-exploration and to identify their own thoughts and feelings.

If you are considering person-centred counselling for your teenager, it is important to find a qualified and experienced counsellor who is accredited by a professional body such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Click here to find a BACP accredited counsellor.