Mental Health Professionals and Support

So here you are. You have decided that you would like to seek help with an emotional, relational or mental health issue. There are a number of support groups in Canterbury. Our Canterbury Mental Health Directory is a great place to start.

Questions you may have

  • What sort of help do I need?
  • Who should I go to?
  • What will it cost?
  • How private will it be?
  • Will I have to wait?

This section attempts to answer these and other questions in understandable language and with your best interests at heart.

It would be best before committing to a particular course of action to have an assessment done by a professional in the field. A diagnosis (depression, eating disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety state and so on) will help clarify the problem and direct you to the best person or organisation.

MHERC does not make referrals to the following services - that is the task of the person who works with you in your assessment.

General Practitioner

Generally the best person to see first is your own doctor. Most GPs are skilled in understanding the nature of a personal problem, even if not specially trained in this area. It may be useful to you and the doctor to ask for a longer appointment to allow sufficient time for a good assessment. Read more »


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have after 7 years basic medical training, undergone 5-7 years, of specialised training in the fields of mental ill health. Some are generalists and some more specialised in adult, adolescent, child or geriatric care. Read more »


Psychologists have university degrees in psychology. Those who practice talking therapies are also clinically trained and will have a postgraduate diploma in clinical psychology. Read more »


Psychotherapists receive their training from various training schools and are usually members of the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists, which has ethical standards. Their practice is mostly in terms of inner feelings, past experiences and relationships; examples are psychodynamic psychotherapy, Jungian therapy, Gestalt, and Transactional therapy.


Counsellors are also trained by various institutions. There is considerable variation in the types of treatments with concentration on relational and factual problems. The NZ Association of Counsellors is the parent body and sets ethical standards. All of the above groups have arrangements whereby their Patients/clients have recourse to a complaints system.

Social Worker

Social Workers may specialise in individual counselling, couple counselling, family therapy or group therapy.
Social Workers should have a qualification in Social Work - Diploma or Bachelor of Social Work (BSW; MSW or Dip. SW) and also have membership of Aotearoa Association of Social Workers Inc (ANZASW). Read more »

Mental Health Nurse

A Mental Health nurse works in an holistic way in collaboration with people who have mental health issues, their families and other health professionals. Their focus is on recovery as defined by the individual. They work in both inpatient settings and the community. The Nursing Council of New Zealand is the regulatory authority for nurses in New Zealand and many mental health nurses belong to Te Ao Maramatanga: The College of Mental Health Nurses.

Support Workers

Support you to take an active role in your recovery and offer a listening ear, advice and practical assistance. They are usually based in community services.

Occupational Therapists

Provide acitvities for you to help regain lost abilities and develop new living skills.

Consumer Advisors

Give advice to the management of mental health from the perspective of service users.

Family Therapist

Family Therapists work with families in the recognition that children and adolescents live with and learn from their families, and that many of their problems are influenced by those closest to them. Family therapists also work within ethical guidelines. 

What's next?

The first appointment
This should be regarded by both parties as a trial- to see if you 'fit'. If it is not comfortable it is best to be open about that to the therapist and it may be worked out. If not, there should be no hesitation in seeking another, more compatible person.

Financial aspects
Fees vary greatly and should be enquired into. Subsidies may be available through ACC, Work and Income, or General Practitioners.

Overall, when you seek help for any illness do not hesitate to ask any questions on your mind so that you can make an informed decision.