What’s the Difference, Again?

Posted by: Jessy Alam on February 3, 2014 9:41 am

As counsellors and mental health practitioners we have been deeply immersed in the language and culture of our profession. So acquainted have we become with the common parlance of the healers, the creators of safe places, and challengers of intra-psychic defenses that we sometimes have to give excuses for the seeming clichés of our day to day talk. “How does that make you feel?”. It can be easy to forget how little the public is informed about what counselling, psychotherapy and even general mental health practices are, in essence. While there is increasing evidence of mental health awareness around us, you will find that many are unaware of essential mental health services available to them within their communities.

To most, the titles psychotherapist, psychologist and psychotherapist all blur into one another. “What’s the difference again?” Many tend to ask, and, to no fault of their own. All of these “psycho” prefixes somehow present a picture of reclining on a chair and exposing the innermost details of one’s existence only to finish by coughing up a wad of cash with no tangible indication of progress or improvement. And so we are met with some common resistance. “I’m not crazy” is born out of the cultural pressure to appear un-alien. “I don’t have that kind of money” leaves those who are in dire need stranded in dangerous territory if they are left without important resources. While both of these statements warrant a discourse of their own, for now I use them as examples of broad issues that can be addressed more effectively if we can make clear the roles of mental health professionals, educate the public about their options to mental health services and help these resources become as common as dialing 911 in the event of a fire.

I have experienced many panicked calls from individuals wanting to know how they are going to get help for their friends or family who are in danger of self-harm and yet say that they don’t have the money to pay for a psychologist. Their voices sound defeated as they believe that is their only option. I am saddened when, time and time again, individuals that I meet on a daily basis are unaware that there are sliding scale services or community organizations that have competent counselors, psychotherapists and social workers to deal with a variety of crises. Many folks that we encounter are also unaware that a psychiatrist can provide them with counselling and mental health services free of charge by getting a referral from a family doctor. No matter how imperfect the Canadian health care system may be, a physical emergency requires a run to the ER and certain mental health urgencies require a referral to services either in the community or that are covered by government health insurance. Whether that is dialing 911 in the event that there is a threat of harm or using services that link folks to local resources, such as those offered when calling 211(which one can call in most provinces in Canada). The mental health services available out there also remain vague to the public. But we are progressing. While the de-mystification of the mental health system has yet to be addressed in society, the process of public de-stigmatization of mental illness is on the move.

Corporate giants like Bell Media light-up ads of mental health awareness across large billboards. Such initiatives attempt to give meaning to mundane activities, like text messaging – turning them into a hand at “curing” that ineffable stuff that most wouldn’t dare talk about among colleagues or neighbors. The effort to de-stigmatize mental illness on such a large scale is encouraging. But we as individuals can all play a role by coming out of our hiding places and further bringing light to the image of the mental health community.  I believe that a large part of the de-mystification and the de-stigmatization of mental health takes place through the clarification of roles held by mental health professionals and a greater awareness of those services which are not always lit up by billboards- in the simplest of terms.


*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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