Types of Mental Health Professionals
Learn about professionals who can help you deal with mental and emotional troubles.
Professionals That Can Help
Seeking help for mental, emotional, spiritual, or relationship issues can be difficult. You want to be sure you have the right mental health professional to oversee your care so you can take control of any dilemmas in your life.
On the next slides, we’ve provided the basic information regarding the different types of mental health professionals available in most areas. Click “next” to learn who can help you.
When many people think of a psychologist, the first image that comes to their mind is of a patient lying on a leather couch and telling the good doctor their feelings. While that does sometimes happen, psychologists do more than ask someone how they feel. Psychologists specialize in the science of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. Working in private offices, hospitals, schools, or other areas, psychologists treat a range of issues from relationship issues to mental illness through counseling.
Psychiatrists and psychologists often practice in the same area, but psychiatrists mainly diagnose, treat, and help prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders through the use of psychiatric medicine, physical exams, and by interpreting laboratory tests.
While general practice doctors can prescribe medications to help with mental and emotional problems, psychiatrists are often preferred for complicated disorders. Some psychiatrists’ specialties include children, forensic psychiatry, and learning disabilities.
A psychoanalyst follows the theories and practice of Sigmund Freud by helping a patient explore his or her repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts. This is done through free association, dream interpretation, and the analysis of resistance and transference. While the practice has its critics, many find that it successfully explores deep psychological and emotional disturbances that could unknowingly create patterns of bad behavior.
Rarely is a psychiatric nurse like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In real life, these registered nurses who specialize in mental health are known for their positive therapeutic relationship with patients. Under the supervision of a medical doctor, psychiatric nurses perform psychological therapies, administer psychiatric medication, and often deal with challenging patient behavior (as they most often practice in mental health facilities).
A psychotherapist is a general term for a number of different mental health professionals (psychologists, therapists, etc.) that provide psychotherapy—a type of talking therapy designed to improve a patient’s mental health and well-being. There are many different schools of psychotherapy that can involve therapeutic conversations, group therapy, expressive therapy, and more. The most popular type is cognitive behavior therapy, where a person learns to change bad behaviors or emotions.
Social workers are a group of public employees dedicated to helping people cope with and solve issues in their lives. These can include personal problems, disabilities, and social problems like substance abuse, housing, and unemployment. Social workers are often involved in family disputes that involve domestic violence or child abuse. There are many subtypes of social work, including:
- Child, Family & School
- Medical & Public Health
- Mental Health & Substance Abuse
Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselor is yet another broad term used to describe someone who provides counseling. Their titles may also include the terms “licensed” or “professional.” Since the term is vague, it’s important to inquire about a counselor’s education, experience, and types of services involved.
Some counselors specialize in job stress, addiction, marriages, families, general stress, and so on. Counselors with specific specialties are explained on the following slides.
Family & Marriage Counselor
A family and marriage counselor specializes in common problems that occur within families and married couples: differences, arguments, and so on. The length of the therapy is normally brief, as the sessions are typically focused on specific dilemmas and reaching quick resolutions.
This type of therapy is also used on a one-on-one basis. Sometimes, if one person’s problem—eating disorders, addiction, etc.—affects people close to him or her, group sessions may be used.
Addiction counselors treat people with addictions. While this usually involves substance abuse or gambling problems, it can also include less common addictions, including sexual addictions, hoarding, and others.
Addiction counseling is often done in a group setting, similar to the methods used by Alcoholics Anonymous, but can also be private or with loved ones affected by the addiction.
Art therapists deal in a very specific type of therapy. This method involves using creative media such as painting, sculpture, writing, or other creative outlets to help explore and alleviate problems with depression, medical illnesses, past traumatic events, and addiction.
Proponents of this type of therapy believe it can help a patient express underlying thoughts and feelings that traditional talking therapy may not fetter out.
Religious counselors, also known as pastoral counselors, are trained to help people with a variety of problems. Their primary focus is on crises of faith, marriage and family counseling, and emotional and mental problems, all within a spiritual context.
These counselors are often leaders in area churches, or have extensive religious and mental health training. They often conduct sessions in a one-on-one basis, in groups, or in couples or family settings.
A mental health professional’s training depends on their specific field and the state they practice. Psychologists often require a PhD, while psychiatrists require medical degrees. Nearly every state requires that any type of counselor have a college degree with extra specialized training.
Some things to look for in a mental health professional’s background include:
- State licensing
- Postgraduate degrees: masters or doctorate
- Clinical experience
- Published articles
Who to Choose?
If you think it’s time to see a psychologist or therapist, you have an important choice in front of you. Picking the right person to help you overcome any emotional or mental troubles is important. When choosing someone, factor in his or her specialty, training, methods, schedule, availability, convenience, and any other factors you consider important. Most importantly, search out someone you trust.
Try Healthline’s Doc Search to help you find the right mental health professional near you.