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Professional support

Everybody will have personal strategies for dealing with their emotional and mental health needs. However, just as people develop physical illness and need to see a health professional, many people may benefit from, or need, professional help for emotional issues or problems with their mental health at some point in their lives. 

In order to make this as easy and comfortable an experience as possible, it may help to understand some of the commonly used job titles and types of treatment often used in mental health.

  • Psychiatrist A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is specialised in the diagnosis and drug treatment of mental health issues. As well as being able to prescribe medicines (for example, antidepressants), some psychiatrists will also be skilled in a range of psychotherapies (‘talking therapies’).
  • Clinical psychologist A clinical psychologist provides psychological therapies to reduce psychological distress and enhance or promote emotional wellbeing. They are also trained to do specialist assessments looking at the effect of illnesses on the brain. They will have academic training, and usually work in a hospital or other health or social care setting. Psychological therapies are based on talking and working with people to understand the causes and triggers of mental health problems and on developing practical strategies to deal with them. One example of such a therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy (often abbreviated as CBT), but there are many others.
  • Mental health nurses Nurses who have undertaken specialist training in the provision of services, support and care to people with mental health issues. Many are trained to diagnose and treat mental health problems with medication and psychological therapies. They also offer advice and support to people with long-term mental health conditions.
  • Community mental health nurse (CMHN) Sometimes known as a community psychiatric nurse (or CPN), a CMHN is also a registered nurse with specialist training in mental health. Some CMHNs are attached to GP surgeries or community mental health centres, while others work from psychiatric units.
  • Psychotherapist A person who provides treatment for emotional or mental health problems through talking. This person will have taken in-depth training in this work, and may also have been trained as a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker, or in another health professional role. There is some overlap in the roles of a psychologist and a psychotherapist.
  • Counsellor A person who offers counselling – a talking treatment that aims to help you find ways of coping with problems you are experiencing. This could include short-term support and an opportunity to talk through emotional issues, for example after receiving an HIV diagnosis, or longer-term counselling. They may be trained as a psychologist or other mental health professional, or have done a professional counselling qualification.
  • Community mental health teams (CMHT) These teams help people with more complex mental health needs live independently, but with support, instead of being admitted to hospital. These teams will include mental health professionals such as those listed above, as well as local authority social services staff. You will need to have a GP to use a CMHT, even if your HIV clinic makes a referral on your behalf. They do not generally accept self-referrals, but your GP can tell you more about this.
  • Most mental health teams only see people who live in the area covered by the team. Some hospitals and HIV clinics can bring in psychiatric services to provide mental health care and support for their patients when it’s needed (this is called ‘liaison psychiatry’).
  • Psychological wellbeing practitioners These are a type of NHS worker, who can provide support and care for people suffering from mild to moderate anxiety and depression. They are linked to existing services; your GP can refer you to them or you may be able to refer yourself.

A document called Standards for psychological support for adults living with HIV describes how support should be provided to people living with HIV in the UK. The standards recognise the importance of providing timely and effective support for mental health and emotional wellbeing as part of good HIV care. 

You can read the full version of the standards on the British HIV Association website (

A short version of the standards has been produced to help you find out more easily what psychological support you can get. Ask for a summary of the standards at your HIV clinic or support organisation, or you can see a copy online at

HIV, mental health & emotional wellbeing

Published December 2014

Last reviewed December 2014

Next review December 2017

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.