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Choosing a Mental Health Professional

There are many ways to treat anxiety, depression and other mental health-related illnesses, and it can be overwhelming to try to figure out which is right for you. Different health care practitioners approach treatment in different ways, so it can help to know more about them as you seek care.

Psychologists
Psychologists hold a PsyD or PhD in psychology, counseling, education or a related field, and must be licensed in the state where they practice. They use psychological testing, interviews and evaluations to diagnose conditions and illnesses. Some specialize in specific forms of training such as cognitive behavioral or interpersonal therapy.

Counselors/Therapists/Clinicians
To practice using one of these titles requires a master’s degree in a mental health-related field. These professionals work in a variety of treatment settings and have titles such as Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor, and Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Licensing requirements vary from state to state.

Clinical Social Workers
These practitioners attend schools of social work where they earn a master’s degree specifically in social work (MSW) and learn to evaluate a patient’s mental health and apply therapeutic techniques. Many MSWs also work in case management and patient advocacy roles.

Psychiatrists
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who have completed, at minimum, a residency training in psychiatry following medical school. They can diagnose mental health conditions, plus they can prescribe and monitor medications. They must be state licensed and many are board-certified by the Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Nurse practitioners who have a Master of Science (MS) degree or a PhD in nursing with specialty training in psychiatry. They can assess, diagnose and provide therapy for most mental health or substance use disorders, and often can prescribe medicine as well.

Primary Care Physicians and Family Nurse Practitioners
Health care professionals who can prescribe medicines for mental health illnesses/conditions. The National Alliance on Mental Health recommends an integrated approach, one in which your primary doctor or nurse practitioner collaborates with mental health professionals for the best possible outcomes.

Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness