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Types Of Mental and Behavioral Health Professionals

by Patricia O. Urquiaga | Sep 08, 2021 | behavioral health, behavioral health providers, Clinicians, mental and behavioral health professionals, mental and behavioral health workforce, mental crisis, mental health, mental health conditions, Mental Health Nurse Practitioners, mental health providers, psychiatrist pharmacists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists
Types Of Mental and Behavioral Health Professionals

Mental and behavioral health is a complex issue that requires the support and treatment from various mental and behavioral health professionals.

The goal of mental and behavioral health professionals is to help individuals take control of their lives by providing them with the right treatment plans and empowering them to overcome disorders, while achieving mental and behavioral wellness.

As mentioned in our previous blog mental and behavioral health workforce overview (add link to blog once live), mental and behavioral health professionals tend to work in a variety of settings. Everything from inpatient and outpatient facilities, to hospitals, psychiatric facilities, community mental health clinics, schools and more.

Mental and behavioral health professionals can do either of the following – 1) assess and provide therapy and 2) prescribe and monitor medication. To best understand the differences and roles these mental and behavioral health professionals play, let’s take a look at the following descriptions.

Assessment and Therapy

Mental and behavioral health professionals under this category help assess and diagnose mental health conditions. Additionally, they help individuals better understand and cope with their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by offering guidance to help improve their ability to achieve desired life goals.

  • Psychologists – Psychologists are trained to evaluate an individual’s mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and other forms of testing. They can diagnose and provide individual and group therapy to help individuals overcome challenges and cope with life issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, relationships, family, lifestyle effects on health, chronic illness and more. A few psychologists might also have special training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other behavioral therapy interventions. To become a psychologist, you must earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in a field of psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). To practice, psychologists must be licensed by licensure boards in each state where they intend to practice.
  • Counselors, Clinicians and Therapists (job title varies according to treatment setting) – The role of a counselor, clinician and therapist is to evaluate an individual’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques according to specific training programs. Individuals suffering from mental health issues arising from various life situations can partner with these healthcare professionals to reduce their symptoms (depression, anxiety, stress, addiction etc.) and reach a positive level of thinking, feeling and living. To become a counselor, clinician, or therapist, you must earn a master’s degree (M.S. or M.A) in a mental health-related field such as psychology, counseling psychology, marriage, or family therapy etc. Licensure and certification requirements vary per specialty and state; therefore, when ready to practice make sure to check in with your state. Examples of job titles include professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselor, mental health counselor, nurse psychotherapist, pastoral counselor, peer specialist among others.
  • Clinical Social Worker – Similar to counselors, clinicians and therapists, a clinical social worker is also trained to evaluate an individual’s mental health and while using therapeutic techniques according to specific training programs. Additionally, they are trained in case management and advocacy services. Social workers aim to protect the rights and wellbeing of individuals. Their primary role is to help individuals cope and find solutions to various life and social issues that come with mental illness and help individuals transition back to family and community. To become a clinical social worker, you must earn a master’s degree in social work. Licensure requirements vary per state; therefore, when ready to practice make sure to check in with your state.

Prescribe and Monitor Medication

The following types of mental and behavioral professionals can prescribe medication in addition to offering assessments, diagnoses and therapy.

  • Psychiatrists – Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who’ve completed psychiatric training. Their role is to diagnose mental conditions (i.e., personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, phobias, addiction etc.), prescribe and monitor medications and provide therapy. Psychiatrists can also take additional training in child and adolescent mental health, substance use disorders or geriatric psychiatry. To become a psychiatrist, you must earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), plus complete a residency training in psychiatry. To practice, psychiatrists must be licensed by licensure boards in each state where they intend to practice. They may also become board certified psychiatrist by the Board of Neurology and Psychiatry.
  • Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioners – The role of a psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioner is to assess, diagnose and provide therapy for mental health conditions or substance use disorders. Depending on the state, they may also be qualified to prescribe and monitor medication. Requirements to the degree of supervision necessary by a licensed psychiatrist also varies per state. To become a psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioner, you must earn your Master of Science (M.S.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing with a focus on psychiatry. To practice, psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners must be licensed by licensure boards in each state where they intend to practice. They may also become board certified in psychiatric nursing by the American Academy of Nurses Credentialing Center.
  • Primary Care Physicians – When it comes to mental health, primary care physicians can prescribe medication; however, they should work closely with mental health professionals to best determine an individual’s treatment plan. To become a primary care physician, you must earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). To practice, primary care physicians must be licensed by licensure boards in each state where they intend to practice.
  • Family Nurse Practitioners – Similar to primary care physicians, family nurse practitioners can provide general medical services (depending on each states laws). Additionally, they can prescribe medication; however, they should work closely with mental health professionals to best determine an individual’s treatment plan. To become a family nurse practitioner, you must earn your Master of Science (M.S.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing. To practice, family nurse practitioners must be licensed by licensure boards in each state where they intend to practice. They may also become a board certified, family nurse practitioner.
  • Psychiatric Pharmacists – Psychiatric pharmacists are advanced practice pharmacists specializing in mental health care. Depending on the state in which they practice, they may be able to prescribe or recommend medications. Psychiatric pharmacists are skilled at medication management; in other words, evaluating responses, modifying treatment, managing medication reactions and drug interactions and can even provide education about specific medications. Many of these professionals have also completed training in child and adolescent psychiatry, substance use disorders and geriatric psychiatry. To become a psychiatric pharmacist, you must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD). While residency training completion is not required, many pursuing this career complete it. To practice, psychiatric pharmacists must be licensed by licensure boards in each state where they intend to practice. They may also become board certified psychiatric pharmacist by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties.

Taking the first step to seeking help can be overwhelming and challenging.

We hope that the breakdown of mental and behavioral health professionals described above can help you in the process.

Don’t forget to ask questions as finding the right match is crucial in establishing a good relationship and getting the most out of your treatment.

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