So You Need a Mental Health Provider… Now What?
There are many different types of mental health providers, each with their own specialties and skill sets. This can make it difficult to know which one you need for your unique situation, but don’t worry! We’re here to break down the main types of providers and help you decide which one might be best for you.
Types of clinicians
There are many different types of clinicians. A good rule of thumb is to find someone who has at least one of these credentials: psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker, psychiatric nurse practitioner or licensed clinical professional counselor. These particular types of practitioners often provide short evaluations that can better direct you to the care level and type that you need through a brief diagnostic assessment.
Psychiatrists tend to primarily prescribe and monitor medications after diagnosis as well as direct other treatment providers in executing treatment plans. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed residency training in psychiatry after completing their MD. Most psychiatrists will only see patients who have been referred by another doctor, like your primary care physician or a psychologist. They’ll conduct an initial evaluation and then determine if you need medication, therapy, or both.
General Practitioner, like your family doctor, are limited in what they can provide as far as mental health services. They can sometimes provide prescriptions for less monitored medications and provide direction to other types of professionals who can better treat your mental health or behavioral health concern. If you’re not sure where to start, it’s always best to consult with your primary care physician first. If he or she is unable to help you find a professional that can assist you with your mental health needs, then he or she will likely be able to refer you to someone else who might be able to help.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners often assist psychiatrists and can provide diagnoses and prescriptions under the supervision of a psychiatrist. These professionals are trained to deal with mental health issues that are not life-threatening, such as depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. If you’re looking for someone who will listen to your concerns without judgment or stigma, consider scheduling an appointment with a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Note that these professionals are also typically trained primarily in the prescription and maintenance of medications and have little training in providing ‘therapy’ compared to other mental health professionals.
If you’re experiencing cognitive difficulties such as memory problems, attention deficit disorders, or autism spectrum disorder, it may be worth considering an appointment with a neuropsychologist. These medical professionals can help diagnose underlying mental illnesses and provide evidence-based treatment options for your unique case. Neuropsychologists are particularly appropriate for diagnosing delays in functioning or changes in functioning as a result of an accident (traumatic brain injury) or detecting progressive biological degenerative processes (e.g., dementias).
Psychologists are trained to assess mental health conditions and give treatment recommendations. If you’re seeking therapy, see a psychologist. Psychologists are the mental health professionals who receive the longest training specifically in the treatment and understanding of mental health disorders. While most psychiatrists’ education prepares them for the understanding of bodily processes and the effects of medications on mental health issues; psychologists, on average, train for 6-8 years specifically in the therapeutic treatment of mental and behavioral health-related disorders. You can see a psychologist if you believe you have serious symptoms and need diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Psychologists often work on treatment teams, just as psychiatrists do: in coordination with other treatment professionals who may carry out treatment plans monitored by them.
Behavior analysts are skilled at understanding how your environment and behaviors may be contributing to or maintaining your symptoms. Whether or not your disorder is “biological” or “mental” they can often help intervene in ways that can help you alleviate symptoms more quickly. Though they are better known for their work in assisting with Autism and developmental disorders – behavior analyts are not limited to working with these types of issues. Particularly within an integrated treatment team, behavior analysts can play an essential part in making sure that your treatment keeps you moving towards improving your life functioning.
Therapists and Counselors: Licensed Professional Counselors
Therapists and “counselors” are slightly different than psychologists in that they don’t need to have a PhD or other type of advanced degree. Instead, they can obtain licensure by earning an undergraduate degree in counseling, followed by two years of graduate work (usually at an accredited school) focusing on counseling skills. Licensed Professional Counselors and therapists tend to be a part of an integrative treatment team when treating severe disorders. When they practice independently they may need extra training or supervision to handle serious mental health concerns or may specialize in treating a specific disorder. Essentially, the breadth and depth of their training vary from that of a psychologist. Additionally, in most states – Licensed Professional Counselors and therapists are limited in the amount and types of testing they can do to help you understand your condition or progress.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) may practice as a part of an integrative team or independently (depending on the state). These professionals, if “clinical” is included in their title, can diagnose mental illnesses and treat them. LCSWs are often able to assist in monitoring and treating persistent severe mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia; bipolar disorder). They also frequently work with individuals who have depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse issues. If you’re looking for someone who can help you manage acute symptoms or a disorder requiring specialization in a particular treatment; an LCSW may not be right for you.
Coaches are not licensed to treat mental health disorders can be helpful as support during difficult times in your life. If your concerns involve symptoms that significantly impact your ability to function, seeing a coach may not be right for you.