What Type Of Mental Healthcare Provider Should I See?

When an individual is seeking out help for their mental health, it is possible they may feel overwhelmed by all the mental healthcare providers available. However, understanding your specific needs and what a particular mental healthcare provider can offer can help you find what provider may work for you.

Mental healthcare providers specialize in different areas and are qualified to treat various issues, but these credentials and job titles vary. Some focus on clinical interventions or prescribing medication, while others focus on clinical research or policy changes.

It is important to understand your personal needs before choosing which type of mental health care provider you should see, as well as gaining an understanding of each mental healthcare professional’s education, credentials, areas of specialty, and what issues they treat. 

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing, preventing, studying, and treating mental disorders. The psychiatrist’s degree path includes completing an undergraduate degree, medical school, and a residency. They will obtain a Doctor of Medicine or Osteopathic Medicine and complete psychiatry residency training. Additionally, they will obtain physician licensure in their state of practice. They may also be appointed as a board-certified psychiatrist by the Board of Neurology and Psychiatry.

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Psychiatrists are qualified to diagnose and treat clients with mental health disorders, and they typically prescribe medication to treat their clients. Psychiatrists can help people with anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders by prescribing medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs. They are also qualified to provide talk therapy, but this service is something they rarely do. You may benefit from seeing a psychiatrist if you display some of the following symptoms:

  • Mood instability 
  • Sleep issues, including nightmares
  • Recurring physical illness with no explanation 
  • Excessive worry, anxiety, or depression 
  • Patterns of frequent isolation 
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, or intent 

However, if you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for support. The previous lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK, will continue to function indefinitely, so please do not hesitate to call.

Psychologists

Psychologists are mental healthcare providers who study mental, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behaviors. Psychologists specialize in studying behavior as it relates to the mind, and they evaluate a person’s mental health using clinical or psychological assessments and testing. Their focus often includes experimenting, observing, and translating how people connect with one another and their surroundings. 

A psychologist’s degree path includes obtaining a doctorate in psychology or other related fields such as education. After getting a doctorate, they must become licensed by the licensure boards in the state they plan to practice.

 Psychologists are educated in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illness, and they can provide group therapy and individual therapy for various issues. Psychologists are often found in schools and colleges, hospitals and medical clinics, correctional facilities and prisons, and community health and mental health clinics.

Many psychologists will work together with psychiatrists to best address an individual’s needs. For example, if a client might benefit from medical intervention, a psychologist will refer them to a psychiatrist. Conversely, if a psychiatrist has a client that might benefit from talk therapy, they will often refer them to a psychologist. 

People see psychologists for various issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders. Additionally, one may also see a psychologist for learning disorders and behavioral issues.

Psychologists use an array of research-backed treatments to teach individuals how to cope efficiently with their mental health disorders or other concerns that are negatively impacting their lives. There are many types of therapy, and some of the most common types include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy.

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Clinical Social Workers

Social workers have various levels of training and credentials, and their specialties are more comprehensive than other mental health professionals. Social workers assess not only individuals but also families, groups, organizations, and communities. Some hold a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in social work, while others have completed the necessary requirements to become the highest level of social worker, also known as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). It takes about 2 years post-grad school and additional training and supervision to obtain a license in clinical social work.

LCSWs are qualified to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. Additionally, LCSWs can work independently, meaning they can do private practice where they can provide group and individual counseling.

Social workers often work in case management, child welfare, or probation offices. Unlike other mental health professionals, social work education and training are geared toward advocacy and social and socioeconomic situations. Some social workers obtain a doctorate in social work. Still, the focus of this degree is usually clinical research and the leadership of social service programs.

If you prefer that your therapist is well versed in areas such as culture and society and the roles these play in mental health, consider seeing an LCSW. 

Mental Health Counselors And Therapists

Mental health counselors and therapists include licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), licensed professional counselors (LPC), and licensed mental health counselors (LMHC). All of the listed licensed counselors are required to have completed a master’s degree in counseling. Additionally, they must complete additional post-graduate supervision hours (which takes approximately 2 years) if they wish to practice at the independent level.

LPCs must have completed the additional post-graduate hours and supervision (giving them an extra letter after their name), allowing them to practice at the independent level, such as the licensed clinical professional counselors (LCPC). These therapists’ educational focus typically includes:

  • Development throughout the lifespan 
  • Psychology, including behavioral psychology and abnormal psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Individual counseling and group counseling
  • Career and addiction counseling
  • Couples and family counseling 

Often through psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” mental health counselors and therapists assist patients who may be struggling with relationship issues, life challenges, or mental health disorders. They work with patients to develop strong skills and strategies to adjust to or make changes to their lives. Again, the main difference between seeing a licensed mental health counselor and a licensed clinical social worker is the approach, as they can both diagnose and treat issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. 

Licensed Or Certified Addiction Counselors

Licensed or certified addiction counselors specialize in substance abuse and addiction treatment. Typically, certified drug and alcohol counselors need at least an associate degree, but some states may require a bachelor’s degree. Licensed drug and alcohol counselors usually require a master’s degree or higher. Both licensed and certified drug and alcohol counselors can provide group and individual counseling; however, licensed counselors can make diagnostic impressions about substance use disorders (SUDs).

Addiction counselors offer the necessary support, education, and counseling an individual needs while in recovery from substance abuse. If you are struggling with substance abuse, you may want to consider seeing a licensed or certified addiction counselor. 

For those who are experiencing a SUD, they should consider completing a detox program and undergoing inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment. Seeing a counselor while still abusing drugs and alcohol still puts your health and safety at risk. To speak to someone about the treatment process and what it takes to get enrolled into a treatment program, contact a treatment provider here.

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Connect With A Mental Health Provider Today

Most mental healthcare providers can address the same types of issues; however, each type of professional will specialize in particular topics and may approach the issue differently. Whether you choose a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a licensed mental health counselor, or a licensed clinical social worker, one of the most important things is that you feel comfortable with the person.

First sessions are typically spent building rapport and getting to know one another, so if you do not feel comfortable with the person you will be receiving therapy from, it is important to find someone that you can be open with.

The one thing that all mental healthcare providers have in common is their desire to help their clients live a better quality of life. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder or another pressing concern that is negatively impacting your life, contact a therapist today.

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Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW

Photo of Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW

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