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How can a psychiatric social worker help with mental health therapy?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

While social workers cannot diagnose illnesses or prescribe medications for them, many of us are trained in psychotherapy, or providing talk therapy for people with mental health problems. If you are paying for therapy services, seeing a social worker is often a less expensive way of receiving treatment, as social workers generally have lower fees than psychologists. Social workers are also becoming more recognized by insurance companies as qualified to provide this service, so check with your benefits to see if you have this coverage.

When looking for a social worker to provide psychotherapy, however, you do want to do your homework. In Canada, at present, almost anyone can say they are a "psychotherapist". While legislation is in the works to change this, right now this means that you want to ask a lot of questions of the person you are considering going into therapy with: what is their educational level? Usually, social workers with a Master's Degree (MSW) are well-qualified to provide this service. Sometimes therapists will have only a Bachelor's Degree (BSW) and are still qualified because of the amount of experience they have had working in the field. It's also important that a social worker be registered with her College, which provides you with protection and the ability to file a complaint should any issues arise.

Regardless of the degree obtained, however, you still want to ask questions such as: what type of therapy does the person provide? how long has she been working in the field? does she have a supervision or consultation team of some sort? and does she have experience working with the specific illness that you are dealing with?

A very important factor to keep in mind as you're speaking with a potential therapist, however, is how comfortable are you with this person? does she seem open to your questions and forthcoming with information? or does she seem impatient or evasive? The relationship you have with your therapist will have a large impact on how well you'll do in therapy, so make sure this is a person you could potentially work with before booking an appointment. You may have to meet with a couple of therapists before finding someone you're really comfortable with.

Finally, a good starting point can be referrals: ask your family doctor if she has therapists she recommends; if you know of family or friends who have had experience with social workers, ask them for referrals.

Psychiatric social workers are qualified mental health workers. They generally hold a master's degree in social work and are often well-versed with the social service systems in an area. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) may specialize in certain areas such as individual psychotherapy and family or marital therapy. Psychiatric social workers cannot prescribe medication.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.