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Choose the Right Mental Health Practitioner

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

There are many different titles for mental health providers, so how do you know if you are choosing the right one? Credentials. Licensing. Training. Expertise. It can be very confusing, especially when you are in the midst of needing help quickly! 

There are psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, psychotherapist, counselors and nurse practitioners who are available to help you recover from a mental health issue. But what is the best approach, and who is the best to provide it?


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with specialty in mental health prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. With four years of medical school plus an additional year for internship, and three years of specialization, Psychiatrists are the highest trained mental health providers, looking at both physical health and mental health symptoms. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, and they work in tandem with Psychologists, most times providing medicine management while referring to a psychologist for counseling. They are licensed by the Medical Board. 

Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioners have a Masters degree or PhD., in the field of nursing with advanced studies in mental health. They can assess, evaluate, diagnose and treat mental health conditions. 

Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioners have a Masters degree or PhD., in the field of nursing with advanced studies in mental health. They are governed by their State Nursing Board.


A psychologist has a doctorate in psychology; PsyD. Ed.D, or PhD., plus an additional 2-3 years internship. They are not medical doctors, so they cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists can do counseling, psychotherapy, psychological testing,  and interviews. They are qualified to assess and diagnose mental health disorders. They are licensed by a licensing board for their state. 

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, Mental Health Clinician, Psychotherapist and Therapist

These titles are used interchangeably but can vary by state laws. All of these titles possess a Masters degree, an internship, plus two additional years post-graduate school under a supervising clinician. These titles are qualified to evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health problems through counseling or psychotherapy and are licensed by their state licensing board. Working with these mental health professionals can reduce symptoms and elevate ways of thinking, interacting and being. 

Within the realm of Mental Health Counselors are Marriage and Family Therapists, who also must hold a Masters degree. They are qualified to treat,  evaluate and diagnose mental health disorders within the context of marriage and family systems. 

Clinical Social Worker

A social worker must have a Masters degree to provide counseling. They are qualified to evaluate, diagnose and treat mental health conditions. Their training is much different from a Licensed mental health counselor; a counselor has extensive training in areas like psychopathology and trauma disorder treatment to directly help clients overcome their problems. Social workers can serve as family advocates and provide case management services. 

Each of these professionals are governed by a board of licensure. They are mandated to adhere to the requirements set forth by their licensing board in areas such as continuing education and ethics.

No matter which mental health professional you select for your treatment, be sure to ask about licensing credentials, ethical complaints, experience, and modalities used in treatment.

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