It's not easy to find a qualified mental health practitioner in Malaysia. There aren't many of them, and there are very few laws that govern the professions.
If you want a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, you're okay. There's an association and everyone who's a psychiatrist has to join.
There's a counselor association but not everyone who joins has the same kind of training and not everyone practices. Also, they don't accept foreign trained professionals, or those who want to practice online.
In Malaysia the term counselor is legally restricted (although not enforced, from what I see) but there are no laws that cover the terms psychologist, therapist and other mental health worker descriptions.
In a word, it's chaos. I have a friend with an Australian counseling degree who can't join the professional organisation here unless she retakes the whole thing in a local school, and there's a quack with no training whatsoever who advertises psychology services in the newspapers. We also have people with fake degrees practicing.
My clients from the Middle East, Africa and Far East tell me they have
exactly the same issues in their countries, so I believe that Malaysia
is the rule rather than the exception.
I don't expect matters to improve soon because accreditation is a problem everywhere. First, groups tend to be exclusive rather than inclusive. This means that if your degree says 'psychology', you may
not be able to join a counseling organization, and visa versa. Second, working
cross borders is a complete nightmare. In the European Union, a Polish
degree works only in Poland; in the USA licenses tend to cover just a
What does it mean for you? If you live in a country where mental health practice is still fairly new and unregulated, and you want help, I suggest you do this:
1. Ask your family doctor or GP to list the practitioners she knows. She may not know straight off, but she'll know how to sort out the quacks and cons.
2. Go to a government hospital and ask for recommendations. They tend to be better at screening than for-profit hospitals.
3. Ask a psychiatrist for reliable associations and practitioners. They should know who to talk to but they tend to be awfully busy so be prepared for a bit of a wait. If the practice has a nurse or receptionist, ask her or him.
Ellen Whyte is a counselling psychologist based in Malaysia who works over Skype and Facetime with international clients. You can contact her through lepak.com.
You may also want to check out Ellen's Flipboard magazines for collections of media articles about depression, stress and happiness. Also, there's a feel good pets magazine, guaranteed to make you smile.