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Mental health providers

More than just psychiatrists

Karen Miller
Mental health providers

There’s a common misperception that mental health services fall under the purview of psychiatrists. Not so — and that might be a good thing. According to the most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists number roughly 25,000 — too few to tend to all those in need. In comparison, licensed clinical social workers, who provide the bulk of mental health care in some settings, add 200,000 to the pool.

There are several other types of mental health professionals, but may differ in the level of services offered or licensure to prescribe and dispense medication. In addition, some providers specialize in treating certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. These factors should be considered when choosing a provider.

Mental health providers that can prescribe medication:

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy (D.O.) that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Some psychiatrists, however, only prescribe medication and do not counsel patients.
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (P.M.H.N.) are registered nurses with training in mental health.
  • Certified physician assistants (P.A.-C.) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and can specialize in psychiatry.

Mental health providers that cannot prescribe medication:

  • Psychologists hold a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D) in psychology and are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.
  • Licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.) hold a master’s or doctoral degree in social work and are trained to provide assessment and counseling.
  • Licensed professional counselors (L.P.C.) are trained to provide diagnoses and psychotherapy. Training varies by state, but most have at least a master’s degree.
  • Several other providers, such as marital and family therapists, certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors are available. Credentials may vary by state.