There are many different titles, careers, and licenses for mental health professionals – it can get confusing! Here’s a comprehensive list for you to learn more.
Types of Mental Health Professionals
- Psychiatrist (MD) – A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and the only professional that specializes in mental health care and can prescribe medications. (Family doctors often prescribe medications for mental health concerns, but do not have specialized training or background in treatment mental disorders.) Most psychiatrists focus on prescribing the appropriate medication that’s going to work best for that individual and their concerns; a few also do psychotherapy.
- Psychologist (PhD, PsyD) – A psychologist is a professional who does psychotherapy and has a doctorate degree (such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D.). Psy.D. programs tend to focus on clinical practice and result in the professional having thousands of hours of clinical experience before they enter practice. Ph.D. programs can focus on either clinical or research work, and the amount of clinical experience a professional will gain varies from program to program. Psychologists receive specific training in diagnosis, psychological assessment, a wide variety of psychotherapies, research and more.
- Psychiatric Nurses (RN) – Most psychiatric nurses are trained first as a regular registered nurse (R.N.), but get specialized training in psychiatry and some forms of psychotherapy, typically including up to 500 hours of direct clinical experience. Psychiatric nurses in most states may also carry prescription privileges, meaning that they can often prescribe the same kinds of medications that a psychiatrist can.
- Marriage & Family Therapist (LAMFT or LMFT) – These therapists tend to have a Master’s degree (but can have as little as a Bachelor’s degree or less in some states) and typically have between hundreds to thousands of hours of direct clinical experience. Because this designation varies from state to state, the quality of the professional may also vary significantly from person to person. More information on Minnesota’s requirements here.
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) – The requirements for this designation, which can be in addition to the professional’s educational degrees, vary from state to state. Most are Master’s level professionals who have had thousands of hours of direct clinical experience. More information on Minnesota’s requirements here.
- Social Worker (BSW, MSW) – Mental health and substance abuse social workers assess and treat individuals suffering from mental health problems or addiction and substance abuse issues. Social workers in this specialty area may provide crisis counseling, individual therapy, group therapy, skills education, and psychosocial rehabilitation services.
- Other – There are a wealth of other professional designations and initials that follow professionals’ names. Most of these designate a specialty certification or the like, not an educational degree.