What is the Difference Between the Various Types of Behavioral Healthcare Providers?

Psychiatrist: An individual who has obtained an M.D. degree and has completed postdoctoral specialty training in mental and emotional disorders. A psychiatrist is able to prescribe medications for mental and physical health needs, (American Psychiatric Association, 2014). Medical doctors can also prescribe medication for mental health conditions, however it’s important to note that they have not had as much extensive training in diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. It is more common for a psychiatrist to prescribe medications for mental health related conditions as they have specialized training in these conditions. Some psychiatrists provide psychotherapy in addition to medication as treatment for mental health disorders. Some refer clients to other mental health providers for psychotherapeutic services, as it is normal for individuals who require such services to work with a team of mental health care providers.

Psychologist: An individual with a doctoral degree in psychology from an organized, sequential program in a regionally accredited university or professional school, (American Psychological Association, 2014). Psychologists focus on clinical practice, obtain thousands of hours of clinical experience, and can enter into a private practice. They provide services such as psychological assessments, testing, and psychotherapy. Psychologists receive specific training in diagnosis, research, and psychotherapy. They work independently or within a group setting and provide a wide range of services.

Marriage & Family Therapist: An individual with at least a Master’s degree or higher, who specializes in providing psychotherapy to individuals of all ages, couples, families, and groups for a wide range of mental health conditions. These therapists must obtain thousands of hours of direct clinical experience and supervision. They also receive extensive training in diagnosis, research, and psychotherapy. Clinical Social Workers – Clinical social workers complete a Master’s degree in social work (M.S.W.) and carry the LCSW title if they are able to practice psychotherapy (Licensed Counselor of Social Work). Most programs require these professionals to go through direct clinical experience and focuses on teaching principles of social work and psychotherapy.

Psychiatric Nurse – Psychiatric nurses are trained as registered nurses (R.N.) and then receive specialized training in psychiatry and some forms of psychotherapy. Psychiatric nurses in most states may also prescribe the same kinds of medications that a psychiatrist can.

Licensed Professional Counselor – A Master’s level professional in mental health or a related field who is specially trained to provide psychotherapy. License requirements vary from state to state. They are trained to work with individuals, families, and groups to treat mental health, behavioral, and emotional conditions. Other – There are many behavioral health care providers. Each state governs the license requirements and these guidelines are intended to protect the public by limiting those persons qualified to practice to those defined by the state laws. A good way to determine which health care provider is best for you is to consider your unique circumstances and needs along with the health care providers experience, credentials, and background.

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