Remember that there are many types of mental health professionals and finding the right one for you may require some research. The following list from the Mayo Clinic Mental Health Center provides a brief description of some of the varying types of mental health professionals.
Psychiatrist – Psychiatrists are medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy (O.D.) who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses. After medical school, they complete at least another four years of residency training. A psychiatrist who passes certain exams can be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Some psychiatrists seek further training to specialize in certain areas, such as children and adolescent, geriatric, or addiction psychiatry.
Because they're medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe
medications. They also offer psychotherapy. T hey may work with you on
everyday problems like stress or more complex issues like schizophrenia.
Psychiatrists work in private practice, hospitals, medical centers,
schools, and other settings.
Psychologist – Psychologists are specialists in psychology, a science that deals with the mind, mental processes, and behaviors. There are many types. Those who treat mental illnesses are generally clinical or counseling psychologists. The title "psychologist" is usually used for those who have a doctoral degree (Psy.D. or Ph.D.), advanced training, and certain licensing and certification. However, it is sometimes used for someone who has only a master's degree.
Psychologists provide psychotherapy for a range of issues, from marriage
problems to personality disorders. They work in private practice,
hospitals, schools, community agencies, and other settings.
Psychologists can't prescribe medications except in New Mexico and
Louisiana, the only states with privileges for specially trained
Psychotherapists – Psychotherapist is a general term for a mental health provider. Psychotherapists may be psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, or others who provide psychotherapy.
Be aware that some people who set up shop as therapists have no formal
training and aren't subject to any state laws or regulations.
Social Workers – Social work is a broad profession. In general, social workers help people overcome social and health problems. Most have a master's degree in social work (M.S.W.), but training and education vary widely. To provide mental health services, they must have advanced training and be licensed by their states.
Licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.) may provide therapy in
private practice, psychiatric facilities, hospitals, and community
agencies. Others may work in employee assistance programs or as case
managers who coordinate psychiatric, medical, and other services. They
may specialize in certain areas, such as domestic violence or chronic
illness. They can't prescribe medications or order medical tests.
Psychiatric Nurses – Psychiatric nurses are licensed registered nurses (R.N.) who have extra training in mental health. They may have an associate degree or a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. Their level of training and experience determine what services they can offer. Under supervision of medical doctors, they may offer mental health assessments and psychotherapy, and they may be able to help you manage your medications.
Advanced practice registered nurses (A.P.R.N.) have at least a master's
degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing. In general, they can
diagnose and treat mental illnesses, and in many states they're
authorized to prescribe medications. They also may be qualified to
practice independently, without the supervision of a doctor.
Mental Health Counselors – Mental health counselor is a broad term for a person who provides counseling. Most have at least a master's degree in social work or a related field, have several years of supervised work experience, and are licensed or certified. They may also be called licensed professional counselors, licensed mental health counselors, or professional counselors. Licensure and certification require extra schooling, experience, and training.
Counselors may specialize in certain areas, such as career counseling,
marriage issues, or substance abuse. They may work in private practice,
community agencies, hospitals, employee assistance programs, or other
settings. They offer help for a range of problems, from anxiety to
depression, to job stress to grief.
Marriage and Family Therapists – Marriage and family therapists evaluate and treat disorders within the context of the family. They typically have a master's or doctoral degree. After additional experience under supervision, they may go on to take an exam to become licensed or certified. Not all states require licensing or certification, however.
Marriage and family therapy is usually brief, averaging about 12
sessions. It focuses on specific problems and solutions. You may meet
with a therapist one-on-one, with a partner or with your whole family.
These therapists provide help with a range of problems, such as
depression, parent-child conflicts, and eating disorders.
Pastoral Counselors – Pastoral counselors are trained mental health providers who also have in-depth religious or theological training. They provide psychotherapy and other support in a spiritual context. Certification and licensing varies. There are several levels of certification, each with its own requirements stipulating such things as religious activity, coursework, research, publication, and experience.
Pastoral counselors provide a variety of services, such as treatment of
mental illnesses, wellness programs, spiritual direction, group therapy,
and family and couples therapy. They may work in pastoral counseling
centers, schools, religious communities, or other settings.
Psychoanalysts – The term "psychoanalysis" is often used loosely but it refers to a specific treatment that explores unconscious factors that influence relationships and behavior. It was developed by Sigmund Freud. Virtually anyone can call himself or herself a psychoanalyst, since it's not a legal term. However, many psychoanalysts seek extensive training or certification. Those who train at accredited psychoanalytic institutes are typically medical doctors, psychologists, or social workers. They generally undergo at least four years of psychoanalytic training, coursework, their own psychoanalysis, and perform supervised psychoanalysis of others. Treatment is intensive, with several sessions a week for five to ten years. During this time, you generally lie on a couch and talk about whatever comes to mind.
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