The Types of Mental Health Professionals and Their Differences

mood disorder

The Types of Mental Health Professionals and Their Differences

While most people use psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor, and other terms interchangeably, these terms have very different meanings. However, these professions all handle mental health problems and specialize in how the mind affects behavior and well-being. Because these differences can get very confusing, we’re here to give a brief overview of the differences between all these professions and see which will work best for your needs. 

The Types of Mental Health Professionals and Their Differences

Having issues with your mental health, especially if they are persistent and reoccurring, can be debilitating. Often, side effects of a mental health condition can impact your physical health and contribute to your daily symptoms, making things seem impossible. 

Because of the wide range of mental health disorders people face, many mental health professionals are trained to address various concerns. These professionals will vary in their ability to diagnose and treat mental health problems, so it’s essential to know the differences between them to know which professional you need most. 

  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are medical doctors (M.D. or D.O.) who specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness. They are trained to see the difference between mental health problems from other underlying medical conditions. They also monitor the effects of mental illness on physical health conditions and medication effects and write a prescription for mental health disorders. 
  • Psychologist: Psychologists have a doctoral degree (Ph.D., PsyD, or EdD) in psychology and study the mind and its behaviors. They are qualified to perform counseling, perform psychological tests, and provide treatments for mental disorders. They are not medical doctors, meaning they cannot prescribe medications or perform medical procedures. 
  • Licensed Therapist: Counselors and therapists often have a master’s degree (MA) in psychology, counseling, or other fields and are only able to evaluate and treat mental problems by offering counseling or psychotherapy as a form of treatment for mental health disorders. 
  • Social Worker: Social workers have the training and often a master’s degree in social work to evaluate and treat mental disorders. They work in psychotherapy but also work as advocates for the person and family members in case management scenarios. 
  • Mental Health Nurses: Some nurse practitioners have training in mental health services, but it depends on their level of training and certification. They can evaluate patients, provide psychotherapy, and even prescribe and monitor medications. 

In these professions psychotherapy and counseling are two different professions. Counseling focuses on specific problems, while psychotherapy handles the long-term management of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. With the various types of psychotherapy provided, many professionals can also offer different models for treating mental illnesses. 

Speak With Your Primary Care Provider For Mental Health Services

It’s important to speak with your primary care provider before seeking out mental health treatment, as your physician can help refer you to a specialist that can handle your concerns more effectively. By speaking with your primary care provider, you can get the mental health services you need most and help overcome problems, treat disorders, and, most of all, feel better.

Share This Blog:


April is the founder of Prestige Mental Health and is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC) who is qualified to practice primary care and psychiatry. She is passionate about providing quality, compassionate, and comprehensive mental health services to children, adolescents, and adults. April specializes in psychiatric illnesses including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD/trauma, bipolar, and schizophrenia.