Types of Mental Health Support
There are different types of support available to people struggling with mental health challenges. The type of support you seek out will depend on your presenting challenges and concerns. This article will review some support options that are available to you (or your child). Regardless of which mental health professional you choose to work with, each one will strive to apply their knowledge, skills, and clinical judgment to create a tailored plan that meets your individual needs and enhance your quality of life.
A counsellor or psychologist can help you address, manage, and/or resolve your ongoing challenges. Many counsellors work from a strengths-based approach, acknowledging your inner resources and building upon your existing capacities. Many are further trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive, aware and respectful of each people's diverse identities, experiences, and needs. Counsellors actively listen to your concerns, validate your feelings, and support you to gain insight and strategies that empower you to navigate your circumstance with more clarity, choice, and confidence. Counsellors can take the role of a supporter, coach, guide, consultant, collaborator, and/or advocate.
Here are some further considerations to keep in mind, as not all counsellors are the same:
Counsellors vary in their educational background (e.g., high school diploma, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctorate Degree) and training background (e.g., psychology, social work, occupational therapy);
Counsellors vary in the population they serve and may work with individuals (children, youth, adults), couples, families, and groups;
Counsellors vary in their training and may specialize in a variety of presenting concerns, including anxiety, depression, stress, grief, trauma, parenting, and neurodevelopmental disorders (ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Learning Disability);
Counsellors vary in their approach to the work and may implement different evidence-based practices (including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Family Systems Therapy);
Counsellors vary in the ways they conduct therapeutic sessions and may provide services in-person, online using live video-conferencing, over the phone, and/or by text or email exchange.
Psychologists conduct a variety of psychological assessments, ranging from comprehensive to more focused evaluations. Here are some common psychological assessments:
Psychoeducational assessment - is a comprehensive learning assessment that assesses an individual's cognitive, learning, academic, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning within an educational setting. This form of assessment screens for specific learning disorders (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia), ADHD, developmental disability, and other factors that may impact a child’s learning capacity.
Gifted Assessment - is a focused evaluation that identifies an individual's intellectual strengths and determine whether their intellectual capacity (IQ) meets the diagnostic criteria for giftedness. If met, children can register and gain access to educational programs designed for and dedicated to supporting individuals with giftedness.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Assessment - is a focused assessment that examines an individual's cognitive capacity, executive functioning, behavioral challenges, symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. This assessment will determine whether an individual meets the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment - is a complex assessment that involves the evaluation of multiple domains of functioning and behavior to determine whether an individual meets the diagnostic criteria for ASD.
Intellectual Disability Assessment - is a focused assessment that evaluates an individual's intellectual capacity (IQ) and adaptive functioning. To qualify for a diagnosis of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD), an individual must have an IQ of 70 or lower, have significant impairments in daily living skills, and have a recent intellectual disability assessment.
Mental Health Assessment - a clinician gathers and analyzes information pertaining to an individual's mental health in order to determine whether they meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis (e.g., anxiety, depression).
Depending on the type of psychological assessment being conducted, the process may vary. However, you can typically expect that an assessment will include some aspects of the following:
An appointment with the individual of interest (yourself or your child) to administer standardized measures and/or informal tests, as appropriate (e.g., to measure intelligence, cognitive abilities, academic skills, executive functioning, memory, attention, social-emotional and behavioral functioning);
A clinical interview with parents, when children are being assessed;
Standardized questionnaires for parents and teachers to complete, when children are being assessed;
A thorough review of all previous assessments and school/health records to help understand an individual's developmental history;
An observation of the individual in their natural environment to further understand their strengths, challenges, and needs - and to inform a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan;
A comprehensive written report that documents any pertinent information gathered, the testing process and results, and any diagnosis made; this report often identifies an individual's strengths, limitations, needs, and recommendations to enhance their capacity and success;
A follow-up meeting to go over the report and answer any questions or concerns you may have.
Given the variability in symptom presentation and the overlap among several neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders (e.g., Social Anxiety Disorder, ADHD, ASD, OCD, Social Communication Disorder), a misdiagnosis is possible. As such, it is critical that clinicians are vigilant and work to rule out other possible explanations for symptoms when conducting psychological assessments.
Occupational therapists work with individuals who have disabilities, illnesses, or injuries that prevent them from independently living their lives. OTs support individuals to develop the functional skills they need (e.g., sensory processing and self-regulation) to adapt to their environment and participate fully in their everyday lives (e.g., walking, running, handwriting, completing daily routines). OTs work from a developmental and holistic approach, identifying any gaps where a person is slower to develop across a range of skills that include:
gross motor, fine motor, and visual motor skills;
visual perceptual skills;
sensory integration skills; and
daily living skills.
OTs can help conduct an assessment of strength, coordination, stability, movement, and object manipulation to reveal whether there is an underlying Developmental Coordination Disorder that can account for the presenting symptoms and challenges.
When working with children, OTs typically use play (e.g., games, songs, creativity, movement, toys, puzzles) to teach children functional skills, challenge them, and allow them ample opportunities to practice what they learn in their natural environments. As children become more capable of doing their required daily tasks, they gain a sense of competence, confidence, and autonomy that bolsters their resilience and success.
Speech-language pathologists work with individuals who have disabilities, illnesses, or injuries that interfere with their capacity to communicate effectively. SLPs assess for struggles in:
expressive communication (e.g., articulate and express one’s wants, needs, feelings, and thoughts);
receptive communication (e.g., interpret and understand what someone else is expressing); and
social interaction/ language skills (e.g., conversation skills, understanding the role of emotions, perspective taking, understanding nonverbal cues, recognizing and determining solutions for social problems).
When working with children, SLPs typically use play to engage children in learning the skills at hand.
If you have a child that struggles with social skills, you could enroll them in social skills development groups or programs. This will allow your child the opportunity to learn skills (e.g., conversational, friendship, and social thinking skills) alongside other children of a similar age/skill level and with the support of trained group leaders. These programs are small in size, structured, contain an educational component, and a practice component where children are supported to interact in meaningful ways with one another. As your child experiences positive outcomes engaging with other children, their self-esteem will naturally increase and they can begin to generalize their learning to other environments (e.g., school, the playground, social outings, other recreational groups).
There are a variety of professionals trained to support individuals struggling with mental health challenges (e.g., counsellor, psychologist, occupational therapist, and speech-language pathologist). Whether you or your child are struggling, you are not alone. Reach out to a mental health professional and explore your options. There is support available to you.
If you have a child who is struggling, keep in mind that your active participation in their mental health support services is key. Children need the understanding and hands-on support of adults in their natural environments (home and school) to decrease their obstacles, bolster their skills, and increase their competence. If you have a child with a diagnosis (e.g., ADHD or Learning Disability) and an Individualized Program Plan (IPP), it could be valuable for your child's mental health support person to work in collaboration with their school support team to help identify appropriate learning goals and implement effective classroom strategies toward your child's growth and success.
- Written by Cynthia Yoo, Registered Psychologist -