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Types of Mental Health Professionals

The relationship between an individual and a counselor is the key to effective therapy. Understanding more about these professionals can help you find a mental health care provider suited to your needs.

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If you’ve struggled with overwhelming emotions or relationship difficulties, you may feel it’s time to work with a therapist. This first step can come with mixed emotions and uncertainty, and these feelings are normal. Mental health providers understand the challenges of getting started with therapy.

With so many types of mental health professionals to choose from, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the options. Mental health providers include therapists or counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and more. A closer look at each type can make your choice easier.

Table of Contents

Therapists and Counselors

Mental health therapists can help people with marriage difficulties or disorders like depression and anxiety. Therapy is often undergone in an office, but can also be done at home or even remotely through telehealth technology. Mental health therapists all have at least a master’s degree and must be licensed by their state, according to the American Counseling Association.

Psychologists

A clinical psychologist can assess, diagnose and treat individuals with mental disorders. Psychologists can also be full professors in a college setting and may be involved in research studies. Because of their advanced training, psychologists often consult with psychiatrists. Psychologists also provide clinical supervision for licensed professionals with master’s degrees.

  • Degree requirements: Doctorate degree
  • Licensing: Licensing is done by licensing boards in each state
  • Credentials: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Social Workers

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) have core training in social work and case management. LCSWs go through additional training for diagnosing mental disorders and providing therapy. These therapeutic activities are similar to what a licensed counselor does. However, an LCSW will also use their social work background to help the person locate and use community resources. A social worker with a bachelor’s degree can perform social work activities but not clinical therapy.

  • Degree requirements: Master’s degree in clinical social work
  • Licensing: Must be licensed by state licensing board
  • Credentials: Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) have a master’s degree and can assess, diagnose and treat mental health disorders. LPCs also have training in substance use disorders, but may not have the experience and credentials to be substance abuse counselors. The LPC credential is issued by the American Counseling Association. Requirements are typically at the same level as state licensing requirements.

  • Degree requirements: Master’s degree or higher
  • Licensing: Must be licensed by state licensing board by the American Counseling Association
  • Credentials: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Mental Health Counselor

A mental health counselor is a term that can refer to a variety of licensed counseling professionals. Mental health counselors have many hours of supervised experience before being licensed. These therapists are trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental health disorders with counseling therapy. Mental health counselors usually specialize in a few specific disorders or types of treatment.

  • Degree requirements: Master’s degree, M.S. or M.A
  • Licensing: Licensed by state licensing board
  • Credentials: Varies by state, but may include Certified Professional Counselor (CPC) or Registered Play Therapist (RPT)

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) treat problems within marriage and family relationships. Treatments focus on conflict resolution and dynamics between each person in the relationship. A licensed marriage and family therapist typically works with couples and families. Because of their experience working with several people at one time, they may also conduct group therapy.

  • Degree requirements: Master’s degree
  • Licensing: Must be licensed by state licensing board
  • Credentials: Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

Practitioners That Prescribe and Monitor Medication

Some mental health practitioners can prescribe medication to treat disorders. Each of these professionals goes through additional years of education and training. This in-depth knowledge makes them a valuable part of a person’s treatment team.

Psychiatrists

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with training in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. This doctor can prescribe medications and sees patients in outpatient and inpatient settings. Psychiatrists can approve or recommend hospital admissions for emergencies.

  • Degree requirements: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
  • Licensing: Licensed by state medical boards,
  • Credentials: Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

A psychiatric nurse practitioner can diagnose both physical and mental health disorders, design treatment plans and provide mental health therapy. In some states, psychiatric nurse practitioners are permitted to prescribe and monitor medication. According to Nurse Practitioner Schools, psychiatric nurse practitioners take a mind-body approach to assessment and treatment.

  • Degree requirements: Master’s of Science in nursing, post-master’s certificate or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Licensing: Licensed through the state board of nursing
  • Credentials: Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Psychiatric Pharmacists

Psychiatric pharmacists assess medication needs of people with mental health disorders. These specially trained pharmacists consult with treatment teams. This collaboration helps them create safe and cost-effective medication plans. Because of their expertise, psychiatric pharmacists are good resources for patients, family members and other professionals.

  • Degree requirements: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
  • Licensing: Licensed through state boards of pharmacy
  • Credentials: Board Certified Psychiatric Pharmacist (BCPP)

Other Professionals

Not all mental health professionals are licensed by the state or require an advanced degree. These individuals provide vital guidance and support in unique ways.

Certified Peer Specialists

A certified peer specialist is an individual who has lived experience with a mental health or substance use disorder. This individual is also nationally certified to provide support and encouragement for others going through the recovery process. Certified peer specialists fill an important role for people with mental health disorders.

  • Degree requirements: Specific training is required, but a degree is not needed
  • Licensing and Credentials: National Certified Peer Specialists (NCPS)

Pastoral Counselors

A pastoral counselor is an ordained clergy member with added training in pastoral counseling, These counselors can provide therapy for individuals, couples or groups. Pastoral counselors also blend therapy with elements of spirituality and faith. These counselors can provide support and researched-based therapy for people within a spiritual community.

  • Degree requirements: Graduate degree, must be an ordained minister or pastor
  • Licensing and Credentials: Licensing is through professional associations and the governing body within their religious denomination.

Substance Abuse Counselors

Substance abuse counselors have education in substance abuse and counseling topics. These counselors also spend years undergoing practical training and supervised experience as a therapist. Substance abuse counselors often do one-on-one counseling sessions. Because of its effectiveness with substance use disorders, many drug and alcohol counselors also lead regular group therapy sessions.

  • Degree requirements: High school diploma, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree
  • Licensing: Licensing is done by licensing boards in each state
  • Credentials: Credentials may vary by state. Examples of credentials include:
    • Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC)
    • Qualified Substance Abuse Professional (QSAP)
    • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)

American Counseling Association. “Licensure/Certification by States & DC.” Accessed May 31, 2019.

Mental Health America. “Finding Therapy.” Accessed May 31, 2019.

Nurse Practitioner Schools. “What is a Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioner?” Accessed May 30, 2019.

PastoralCounseling.org. “Becoming a Pastoral Counselor.” Accessed May 30, 2019.

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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