The number of Americans who receive mental health treatment or counseling has steadily increased over the years, with 41.7 million adults obtaining treatment in 2021. With the financial and emotional stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, more people have sought help. For those interested in seeking professional mental health care, it is important to understand the variety of options available.
Guidance and Therapy
Several types of mental health professionals help individuals cope with thoughts and behaviors and can also provide guidance on how to achieve life goals. Additionally, these professionals have the ability to assess and diagnose mental health conditions. The following are different types of professionals, who specialize in guidance and therapy:
- Psychologists—trained to evaluate an individual’s mental health using interviews and testing. They have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, counseling, or education. Psychologists can offer individual or group therapy sessions. Different forms of therapy can be used, like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and more.
- Counselors, clinicians, and therapists—specialized in reducing symptoms and improving positive thinking and feeling. These master-level professionals are trained to use therapeutic techniques.
- Clinical social workers—also trained to evaluate mental health and use therapeutic techniques. Typically, clinical social workers specialize in case management and advocacy.
Assessment and Prescription
While this group of professionals can also diagnose and offer guidance, their main differentiator is their ability to prescribe and monitor medications. The following can prescribe medications:
- Psychiatrists—licensed medical doctors with psychiatric training, able to diagnose mental health conditions, provide therapy, and prescribe and monitor medications.
- Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners—requirements vary by state regarding the level of supervision needed by a licensed psychiatrist. These practitioners can assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions or substance abuse disorders. It is important to note that there are certain states in which they are unable to prescribe and monitor medications.
- Psychiatric pharmacists—advanced-practice pharmacists, who specialize in mental health care. Depending on the state and practice settings, they can recommend or prescribe medications. Additionally, they are skilled in managing medications by studying outcomes, modifying treatment, and providing education.
- Primary care physicians (PCPs) and pediatricians—able to prescribe medications but may not specialize in mental health care. Experts recommend that primary care and mental health professionals work together.
- Family nurse practitioners—similar to PCP, they are typically able to provide general medical services and prescribe medication. However, consulting a mental health specialist is recommended.
Every individual’s needs are unique, which is why there are so many types of mental health professionals. When searching for the right fit, be sure to account for your preferences in age, gender, language, and cultural background. If you struggle to find a suitable professional, you can ask for referrals from trusted individuals and physicians or ask for a list of providers through your insurance.