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Defining Mental Health Professions

Taking steps to get help with a mental health condition may seem challenging. If you are ready to seek help and have started researching mental health providers near you, you may have discovered there are several options that are mental health professionals. How do you find the right mental health professional to help you understand your symptoms and begin your healing journey?
Below we have provided the basic details you need to understand the different types of mental health professions, what they do and how they can help.


Psychologists specialize in the science of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They generally hold a doctoral degree (such as a Ph.D.) in addition to years of undergraduate study. Psychologists work in various settings, including schools, private offices, and hospitals. They are trained to treat a wide range of mental health and emotional concerns, including mental illnesses and relationship challenges.
Psychologists generally cannot prescribe medications. In most locations, you do not need a referral to see a psychologist. If you choose an inpatient (residential) or outpatient treatment program, you will generally work with a psychologist in addition to other treatment professionals.


Psychiatrists mainly diagnose, treat, and provide support to prevent emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders. A psychiatrist is a doctor with either an MD (doctor of medicine) or a DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degree. A psychiatrist uses physical exams, lab tests, and psychiatric medications as part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Although general practice doctors (primary care providers) can prescribe medications to help alleviate mental health symptoms, they generally refer patients to a psychiatrist for more complicated mental health conditions. Psychiatrists specialize in treating several conditions, including children and adolescents, forensic psychiatry, and learning disabilities.


The term psychotherapist is used to describe several different types of mental health treatment professionals. This can include psychologists and therapists, among others. Psychotherapy is a type of “talk therapy” designed to improve your mental health and overall well-being. There are many different types or schools of psychotherapy, with the most common being cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT.

Mental Health Counselor

The term mental health counselor is a broad term used to describe someone who provides counseling. Their titles may also include the words “licensed” or “professional.” It’s essential to ask about a counselor’s education, experience, and the types of services involved since the term is vague. Mental health counselors can specialize in a variety of fields, including:

Social Workers

Social workers are not necessarily mental health providers in the same way as psychologists or psychiatrists. However, social workers are dedicated to helping people of all ages learn to cope with problems in their lives, including personal concerns and disabilities. Social workers may work in public services settings or other areas, including universities and hospitals. In some locations, with the correct licensing, social workers can work as therapists.
Social workers may work in aftercare settings or sober living communities where they work to help residents address social problems, including housing, unemployment, and substance use. There are several subtypes of social workers, including:
For more information on types of mental health therapy, be sure to check out this informative blog post.

When Should You Go to A Therapist?

There are many situations where seeing a therapist can help. Therapy can help improve symptoms of many mild, moderate, and severe mental health conditions. Although there are circumstances where medication can help, research shows that the benefits of therapy can last far longer than mediation alone. Therapy is designed to teach you the tools and skills you need to manage your symptoms outside of the therapy environment.
It may take time to decide if you are ready to reach out to a therapist for help. Most professionals suggest you consider seeking treatment when someone causes enough distress and interferes with your life. For example:

Other possible signs you could benefit from seeing a therapist include feeling overwhelmed, excessive stress, fatigue, anxiety, apathy, moodiness, anger, social withdrawal, depression, and hopelessness. 

Keep in mind that healing and overcoming mental health challenges takes time. Even in the most ideal therapy situation, it can take months or longer for your symptoms to improve. The best outcomes occur when you find a provider that treats your symptoms and can help you address your emotional and spiritual health in a way that feels comfortable and supportive for you. If, after a couple of sessions, you do not feel as though the relationship is “right,” do not be afraid to be honest and seek an alternate arrangement.
If you are ready to take the first steps toward recovery, therapy is a judgment-free, safe space where you can share your worries and concerns with a trusted professional. Visit a mental health professional today.
To learn more about mental health providers in your area or to ask about providers who address specific treatment needs, contact us today.

About the author


Michelle Malik

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