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Which Type of Mental Health Professional Should You See?

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, deciding to seek care can be intimidating—all the more so if you aren’t sure where to start, or what kind of provider is the best fit for your needs. While the ultimate goal of all mental health professionals is to help you improve your mental health and overall well-being, each type of provider takes a different approach to treatment. Choosing the right one for you is a crucial step in getting the treatment you need. 

Here, we’ll run through a few of the most common different types of mental health professionals, what they do, and when it might be appropriate to make an appointment. 


What They Do

Psychiatrists are doctors of medicine (meaning they hold either an MD or a DO license) who provide assessments, diagnoses, and treatment for patients. The biggest difference between psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is that psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication and, because they are trained as doctors, may take a more biological approach to mental health treatment.

When Should You See a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists often (though not exclusively) work with patients who have complex or severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder. If you think you may have a severe mental health issue, or if you are interested in trying medication to treat a mental health condition, you might make an appointment with a psychiatrist.


What They Do

Psychologists are mental health professionals who hold a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or other qualifying field (some states allow individuals to obtain a psychology license with a masters degree), and who provide assessments, diagnoses, and treatments for patients. Psychologists use psychotherapy to help people with a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and more. Except for in a few states, psychologists are generally not able to prescribe medication.

When Should You See a Psychologist?

If you have (or suspect that you have) a mental health disorder that is negatively affecting your life and may require long-term treatment, a psychologist may be a good fit for you. 

Therapists, Counselors, and Clinical Social Workers

What They Do

Therapists, counselors, and clinical social workers are mental health care professionals who may hold a variety of degrees (usually at the master’s level) and possess credentials such as LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), and LICSW (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker). These professionals provide counseling and therapy to help clients with issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, grief, and more. Each state in the U.S. has an established board that is in charge of issuing licenses to counselors. There are a wide variety of credential titles used, and they are not standardized across the nation.

When Should You See a Therapist, Counselor, or Clinical Social Worker?

If you are looking for help with a specific, acute issue (such as grief or stress), or are struggling with a particular area of your life, counseling or therapy might be for you. Therapy or counseling is also a great way for people to better understand their thoughts and feelings, learn to manage difficult emotions, or simply become more self-aware.

If you’re still unsure of where to start on your mental health journey, consider making an appointment with your primary care physician to talk about your concerns, goals, and treatment preferences. They can provide recommendations or referrals (if needed) for which type of mental health professional is best for you. 

RADIAS Health provides person-centered integrated healthcare services to people suffering from mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Our services encompass primary care and behavioral health services delivered by compassionate, skilled health care and support staff. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more. If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!

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