Mental Health Professionals
General Practitioner (GP)
A General Practitioner (GP) is a medical doctor with advanced training in general medicine. A GP is often the initial point of contact for those experiencing physical and mental health difficulties. GPs can prescribe and review medications for conditions such as anxiety or depression. They tend to manage mild to moderate mental health concerns, provide preventative care and health education.They can provide a referral letter for individuals, if needed, to seek psychiatrists or specialists to seek help in the public sector.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with specialised training in the treatment, diagnosis and management of mental health difficulties. A psychiatrist can diagnose mental health disorders, prescribe medications, and assess a person’s safety when they are unwell. While psychiatrists have psychological understanding of mental health difficulties and often provide counselling, not all conduct formal psychotherapies or “talk therapy”.
A clinical psychologist usually has a Masters or a Doctorate degree in psychology with specialised training in the treatment of mental health problems. A clinical psychologist is trained to make mental health diagnoses and to provide individual and group therapy. A psychologist may draw on several different therapeutic models to treat mental health difficulties. They seek to understand factors that may have contributed to people developing mental health difficulties and to address these through therapy. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists cannot prescribe medication.
** Currently there is no official regulation in Hong Kong for psychologists, which means any individual can use the title ‘psychologist’ without necessarily proving their qualifications. This also means that psychologists are under no obligation to be licensed or registered with a professional board in order to practice. This is why it is recommended to check the qualifications and professional memberships of the psychologists you wish to visit.
A counsellor, often, has a Masters degree in psychology, counselling or a related field. A counsellor is trained to talk to people experiencing distress and mental health concerns. They can help process upsetting feelings and experiences. Currently, there is no official regulation in Hong Kong for counsellors. Different local organisations provide professional memberships with strict qualification criteria to ensure the validity of counsellors.
A psychiatric nurse is a registered nurse with additional training in mental health. A psychiatric nurse assesses, supports and advocates for patients with mental health concerns. They typically assist psychiatrists working in the public sector. As part of their role they follow up with patients, especially regarding medication, and help with case management.
A registered social worker can be found in hospitals, schools, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or charities, and community centres. They help patients to navigate the complex social welfare system through case management. They aim to help people access a variety of resources to support their wellbeing. They also receive basic counselling training and may be able to provide counselling services for individuals in distress.
What to Expect?
When seeking help from a mental health professional, they will want to get to know more about you and what prompted you to seek help.
You might be asked about:
- Your mood, thoughts and behaviours
- Your lifestyle and any recent events in your life that might be affecting your wellbeing
- Any sleep problems, changes in appetite or changes in your daily activities
- Your medical history and your family’s medical history
- When seeing a medical professional (psychiatrist, GP, psychiatric nurse) they might take your blood pressure, height and weight, as well as run blood tests to explore any physical issues that may contribute to mood difficulties
Your first meeting with a mental health professional may lead to one or more recommendations, which may include any of the below:
- Monitoring: You may be asked to monitor your mood before coming back for another appointment and being offered further treatment or onward referral.
- Diagnosis: Your doctor or psychologist may give you a diagnosis, for example of depression or anxiety. This doesn’t always happen after your first appointment and may only be possible after monitoring you over time or referring you to a specialist.
- Lifestyle Changes: It may be recommended that you make small changes to your exercise, eating and sleeping habits.
- Referral: Your doctor could refer you to see a psychologist or counsellor for therapy or psychiatrist for a more detailed assessment and medication management.
- Self-Referral: Your mental health professional may give you details of services you can contact yourself, for example, a therapist or an NGO.
- Medication: Your doctor might offer to prescribe you psychiatric medication. If they do this they should clearly explain what it is for and explain any possible risks, benefits and side effects, so you can make an informed choice about whether or not you want to take medication.
- Hospitalisation: Depending on your risk assessment, your doctor may suggest in-hospital treatment to better monitor your situation. In general, the hospital will require your consent. However, your doctor may also apply for compulsory hospitalisation if he/she observes an imminent risk of self-harm, suicide or harm to others.
Where to Seek Help
Seeking help through public sector
If you would like to access public healthcare, you can go to a general out-patient clinic (GOPC), A&E, or family doctor to request a referral, and bring along the referral letter, which is valid for 3 months, to receive psychiatric help in the public sector. Mild to moderate cases might be referred to the Integrated Mental Health Programme (IMHP), where family doctors and social workers provide services within family medicine clinics available in all districts.
If you wish to seek clinical psychological services, a psychiatrist from the public sector may refer you to a clinical psychologist under the Hospital Authority (HA). You can contact the Hospital Authority’s Mental Health Direct hotline (24-hours): 2466 7350, which is supported by psychiatric nurses. You can also seek clinical psychological services from the Social Welfare Department (SWD) by receiving a referral from any service unit under SWD (e.g. Integrated Family Service Centre (IFSC), social workers, SWD 24-hour hotline: 2343 2255).
Alternatively, you can attend your local Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness (ICCMW) to seek mental health services. You can attend ICCMWs through self-referral, or when referred by a social worker from other organisations. ICCMW is a one-stop service for individuals who are currently experiencing a mental health problem, or ex-mentally ill individuals, to seek help, rehabilitate, and reintegrate into society. Although it is a service unit under SWD, it is run by different NGOs depending on districts. If needed, social workers may refer you to other suitable social welfare services, or receive clinical psychological services provided by their organisation. You can find your nearest ICCMW here.
Services provided by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
Besides seeking help from the public sector, NGOs also provide a range of mental health services, including their own clinical psychology services or counselling services, community groups, rehabilitation programmes, peer support services, support group, crisis intervention and residential services for people in need. For a list of additional services provided by local NGOs, many of which are low-cost or free, please visit our Community Directory.
Seeking help through private sector
There are also private mental healthcare services available in Hong Kong, with less waiting time but a much higher cost. If you would like to access private healthcare, you can contact the following organisations who have a range of reputable psychologists and psychiatrists. It is important to check the qualifications and professional memberships of the professionals you wish to visit.
Clinical psychologists in private practice:
Currently, there is no official regulation in Hong Kong for psychologists, which means any individual can use the title ‘psychologist’ without necessarily proving their qualifications. This also means that psychologists are under no obligation to be licensed or registered with a professional board in order to practice. This is why it is recommended to check the qualifications and professional memberships of the psychologists you wish to visit.
You can find a list of registered clinical psychologists in Hong Kong here: https:/hkps-dcp.org.hk/images/downloads/EPP%20List%20-%202020.pdf.
It is not mandatory to be registered as a psychologist in Hong Kong. Therefore, there are a number of clinical psychologists practising in Hong Kong who may not be on the above list. A further list of clinical psychologists is available here: https://www.hkadcp.org.hk/register-clinical-psychologist. If you choose to work with someone who is not registered in Hong Kong, please check that the psychologist you are working with fulfils the following criteria:
- Has valid professional indemnity insurance
- Has valid qualifications and professional registration in their country of registration
For information on qualifications and registration in various countries, you can visit the links below. If you are unsure, you can also ask the psychologist or their reception staff directly for more information.
United Kingdom – The Health and Care Professions Council – https://www.hcpc-uk.org/
United States of America – American Psychological Association – https://www.apa.org/
Canada – Canadian Psychological Association – https://cpa.ca/
Australia – Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency – https://www.ahpra.gov.au/
New Zealand – New Zealand Psychologists Board – http://www.psychologistsboard.org.nz/
European Union – European Certificate in Psychology – https://www.europsy.eu/
Psychiatrists in private practice:
Hong Kong College of Psychiatrist: https://www.hkcpsych.org.hk/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=63&Itemid=99&lang=en