Who’s Who in Mental Treatment

Understanding the various types of mental health professionals may help reduce confusion and help you decide who to seek out for help.

There are dozens of different types of mental health professionals. They vary in their educational backgrounds and the settings in which they work. Pastoral counselors usually work at a house of worship, while guidance counselors work in schools, and organizational psychologists help in all types of workplaces.

In addition, some work in very specific areas, such as treating eating disorders or helping athletes improve their performance. Others focus on certain kinds of treatment, such as art therapy or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). One other key difference among these professionals is what they are qualified and permitted to do as part of therapy. For example, some are able to administer advanced psychological evaluations and prescribe medications, while others have more limited powers. Each state differs in the licensing and certification requirements and definitions for particular mental health professions.

The following is a brief list of some common types of mental health professionals:

Clinical social worker: A clinical social worker, who has a master’s degree in social work, is trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques to help address certain problems. A clinical social worker often works on a case management basis, dealing with individuals on issues such as child custody, job training, accessing community services, and other needs.

Counselor: Counselors may also go by job titles, including therapist, clinician, or another description based on their roles and where they work. A counselor must have at least a master’s degree in counseling, family and couples therapy, psychology, or a related field. He or she can evaluate a patient’s mental health and help reduce symptoms and overcome mental and emotional challenges.

Psychologist: A psychologist has more training and experience than a counselor, all of which lead to a doctorate in psychology or a related field. A psychologist uses interviews, testing, and other forms of evaluation to make a diagnosis. A psychologist may specialize in a particular type of therapy, such as CBT, or choose to work primarily with older patients (geriatric psychology), or have some other specialty.

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist has an MD and has completed extensive psychiatric training. A psychiatrist can evaluate a mental health disorder and provide helpful therapy, as well as prescribe medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, if appropriate. Like psychologists and other mental health professionals, a psychiatrist may work in a hospital setting, as part of a mental health practice, or have a private practice.

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