What is the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a social worker and how do I decide which one is right for me?
Mental health services are provided by several different professions, each of which has its own training and areas of expertise. When faced with serious mental illness, finding the right professional for yourself or a loved one is a critical ingredient in the process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Mental Health Professionals: Who They Are
Mental health services are provided by several different professions, each of which has its own training and areas of expertise. Finding the right professional(s) for you or a loved one can be a critical ingredient in the process of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery when faced with serious mental illness.
Types of Mental Health Professionals:
- Psychiatrist – a psychiatrist is a physician with a doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree or osteopathic (D.O.) degree, with at least four more years of specialized study and training in psychiatry. Psychiatrists are licensed as physicians to practice medicine by individual states. “Board certified” psychiatrists have passed the national examination administered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Psychiatrists provide medical and psychiatric evaluations, treat psychiatric disorders, provide psychotherapy, and prescribe and monitor medications.
- Psychologist – some psychologists have a master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.) in psychology while others have a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) in clinical, educational, counseling, or research psychology. Most states license psychologists to practice psychology. They can provide psychological testing, evaluations, treat emotional and behavioral problems and mental disorders, and provide psychotherapy.
- Social Worker- Social workers have either a bachelor’s degree (B.A., B.S., or B.S.W.), a master’s degree (M.A., M.S., M.S.W., or M.S.S.W), or doctoral degree (D.S.W. or Ph.D.). In most states, social workers take an examination to be licensed to practice social work (L.C.S.W. or L.I.C.S.W.), and the type of license depends on their level of education and practice experience. Social workers provide various services including assessment and treatment of psychiatric illnesses, case management, hospital discharge planning, and psychotherapy.
- Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse – Psychiatric/mental health nurses may have various degrees ranging from associate’s to bachelor’s (B.S.N.) to master’s (M.S.N. or A.P.R.N) to doctoral (D.N.Sc., Ph.D.). Depending on their level of education and licensing, they provide a broad range of psychiatric and medical services, including the assessment and treatment of psychiatric illnesses, case management, and psychotherapy. In some states, some psychiatric nurses may prescribe and monitor medication.
- Licensed Professional Counselors – Licensed Professional Counselors have a master’s degree (M.A.) in psychology, counseling or a similar discipline and typically have two years of post-graduate experience. They may provide services that include diagnosis and counseling (individual, family/group or both). They have a license issued in their state and may be certified by the National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors.