We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
There are many types of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists. A mental health professional’s role will vary depending on the condition a person has and its severity.
Mental health is a broad and complex issue that requires different types of support or treatment.
There are various types of professionals who provide different mental health services.
This article discusses different types of mental health professionals, their services, and how to access them.
The following mental health professionals have the required training and qualifications to assess and diagnose mental health conditions and provide therapy.
Psychologists specialize in evaluating mental health concerns and providing psychotherapy and psychodiagnostic assessments. They are not medical doctors and do not prescribe medications as treatment.
Psychologists will typically have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and specialize in understanding the mind and human behavior. They also require a license to practice.
There are many sub-fields of psychology, such as child or addiction psychology.
Clinical psychologists have specialized training in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.
Counselors and psychotherapists are terms some people use interchangeably. However, although both professionals can offer talking therapy without medications, they are different.
Counselors are masters-level clinicians who provide advice and support for people with specific problems.
Some counselors specialize in treating mental illness. Other counselors might address issues related to mental health, such as marriage or addiction counselors.
Clinical social worker
Social workers aim to protect the rights and well-being of individuals. Their roles can vary depending on the setting.
Some social workers specialize in providing mental health support, while others offer more case management services.
They can evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques to promote emotional wellness.
They usually work with people who have complex needs. For example, a social worker may work at a psychiatric hospital to provide psychotherapy or help people reintegrate back into the community after discharge.
Social work is a broad field and may support people with mental health problems in different ways. For example, some social workers specialize in domestic abuse. They may work with other mental health professionals to provide help.
The following mental health professionals can prescribe medications.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in psychiatry.
Psychiatrists provide a range of different types of treatments, including prescribing medications and psychotherapy.
Treatment from a psychiatrist can also provide general medical care. Many people with mental health conditions also have physical health problems that psychiatrists can help with. However, they will typically refer people to other specialists and providers for general healthcare.
Psychiatrists treat all types of mental health conditions, including, but not limited to:
- personality disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- eating disorders
- addictions, including substance abuse disorder and alcohol misuse
- bipolar disorder
They will adapt treatments to each individual. For example, they might prescribe psychotherapy to treat symptoms of depression in people with bipolar disorder.
Some choose to specialize in sub-fields, such as adolescent or forensic psychiatry.
They can work in many locations, including private practices and hospitals.
Psychiatric nurse, or mental health nurse practitioner
Psychiatric nurses can provide an assessment, diagnosis, and therapy for various mental health conditions, depending upon their level of training and certification.
In some states, they can prescribe medication.
‘Psychotherapist’ is a protected title in some states for anyone who provides psychotherapy. It is an umbrella term that encompasses all talking therapies and the many treatment approaches and methods. For example, a psychiatrist or psychologist could receive training to provide psychotherapy.
There are different types of psychotherapy. For example, some people choose to specialize in psychoanalysis, which focuses on understanding unconscious drivers of behavior.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, while general practitioners (GPs), or family doctors, do not specialize in psychiatry, they can still help people with mental health conditions.
People with any mental health condition can see a family doctor about their symptoms.
For many people, family doctors are the first point of call for treatment. They can recognize the symptoms of a mental health condition and work closely with other mental health professionals to provide support or treatment.
Family doctors can prescribe some medications, such as antidepressants. They might also prescribe psychotherapy with another mental health professional.
When choosing a mental health professional, a person should consider:
- their qualifications and experience
- the area they specialize in
- the techniques they use
- whether or not they prescribe medication
It can help to talk to a family doctor first to get advice on the best options.
People experiencing mental health conditions should consider what kind of treatments would be most beneficial.
Psychotherapy is a common form of treatment for many conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders. Licensed psychotherapists could be psychologists or psychiatrists.
Psychotherapy is now commonly available online. These digital approaches aim to deliver therapy through video conferencing software or other platforms. They are easy and convenient ways to receive prompt mental health support.
Many people also take medications to help with mental health conditions, such as antidepressants. A family doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe these medications.
People who are experiencing specific issues that they need help with can consider counseling. For example, counseling can help couples with relationship difficulties that may be affecting their mental health.
The cost varies depending on the type of mental health support. But it can be expensive.
Health insurance plans may cover the cost of mental health treatment. This could include family or employee insurance plans.
People on a low income may also receive cover from Medicaid. Online therapy can be a cheaper option for some people.
Mental Health America highlight some warning signs that might indicate a mental health problem:
- long periods of depression
- extreme mood swings
- disproportionate fear, worry, or anxiety
- difficulty socializing
- extreme changes in appetite and sleep
- suicidal thoughts
- strong feelings of anger
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
Many professionals can help a person understand and recover from mental health conditions. Psychiatrists and other medical doctors can provide medications and psychotherapy. Psychologists and other mental health professionals can provide psychotherapy or counseling, but not medication.
People should consider what kind of treatment they want to receive when choosing a mental health professional. The nature of the mental health condition is also important. A family doctor can guide on this.