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Getting help for — and trusting someone else — with your personal issues can be difficult. Finding the right mental health professional can help you learn to manage the hard times. We break it down for you here.

Navigating the world of mental health professionals can be overwhelming, especially with the wide array of options available. It can be challenging to know what kind of professional best meets your needs. Should you see a psychologist or counselor for anger management? Does it matter?

The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity, prompting many to explore online therapy. Many mental health professionals, from therapists to marriage counselors to psychiatrists, now offer a variety of appointment types, including in-person, telehealth, or a mix of both.

Whether you opt for in-person or online therapy, understanding the roles of various mental health professionals can help you navigate this landscape more effectively. This will help you to find the right type of care and support for your needs.


When people think of psychologists, the image of someone lying on a leather couch, sharing their feelings, often comes to mind. While this scenario does occur, psychologists engage in much more than just listening to emotions.

Psychologists typically hold a doctoral degree like a Ph.D., Psy.D., and Ed.D., and they must be licensed and pass general and state-specific board exams to practice.

Psychologists can be skilled in treating a range of mental health concerns, from depression to relationship issues and trauma-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can also assist with substance misuse disorders, eating disorders, and learning disabilities, providing support to improve overall well-being. However, psychologists cannot prescribe medication in most states.

Psychologists work in various settings, including private offices, hospitals, and schools, with many now also offering online therapy services.

In 2021, the American Psychological Association conducted a survey that showed that 50% of psychologists had transitioned to providing a combination of in-person and virtual services for their clients, a significant increase from 30% in 2020.


Psychiatrists are specialized doctors who diagnose, treat, and prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders using a combination of psychiatric medicine, physical exams, and lab tests. They hold either a doctor of medicine (MD) degree or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree.

While general practice doctors can also prescribe medications for mental and emotional issues, many individuals prefer to seek care from psychiatrists for more complex disorders.

Psychiatrists’ specialties can include:

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Emergency psychiatry
  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Sleep medicine
  • Pain medicine


A psychoanalyst follows the theories and practice of Sigmund Freud by helping someone explore their repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts. This is done through techniques like:

  • free association
  • dream interpretation
  • analysis of resistance and transference

Psychoanalysis has its critics. But it’s valued by many for its ability to delve into deep psychological and emotional issues that may underlie harmful behavioral patterns, often at a subconscious level.

Be careful in selecting a psychoanalyst, as the title isn’t legally protected, meaning anyone can technically call themselves one. However, a credible psychoanalyst typically has undergone years of additional training beyond a graduate mental health degree.

Look for a psychoanalyst who is board certified. Legitimate certification bodies adhere to rigorous standards and are recognized by respected professional organizations in the field of psychoanalysis.

Some examples include:

  • The American Board of Psychoanalysis (ABPsa)
  • The American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA)
  • The International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA)

Understanding the lingo

Therapists, counselors, and psychologists all provide mental health support, but there are differences in their education and focus:

  • Therapists: This is a broad term that can refer to anyone providing therapy. Therapists typically have a master’s degree and can help with a wide range of challenges, including depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.
  • Counselors: Typically, counselors have a master’s degree in counseling and focus on specific areas, such as mental health counseling, school counseling, or career counseling.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists hold a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology and are trained to diagnose and treat various mental health disorders, including severe conditions like psychosis or personality disorders. They may also conduct psychological testing and research.
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Psychiatric nurse

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses with specialized training in mental health, often holding degrees such as a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN). They typically work in psychiatric hospitals, mental health clinics, correctional facilities, and residential treatment centers. Additionally, they may work in private practice or provide home-based care.

They build therapeutic relationships with clients, provide psychological therapy, administer psychiatric medications, and manage challenging behaviors related to mental health conditions. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe medications similar to psychiatrists when they’re not available or cost-effective for an individual.

A study found that only about 5.2% of nursing students had “definitely decided” on choosing psychiatric nursing as a specialty, indicating a challenge in attracting students to this field.

Efforts to address stigma and anxiety related to mental illness could make psychiatric nursing more attractive and improve recruitment rates in the mental health field.


“Psychotherapist” is a broad term encompassing various mental health professionals, including psychologists and therapists, who specifically provide psychotherapy—a form of “talking therapy” aimed at enhancing mental health and overall well-being.

For instance, a psychologist using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) would be practicing psychotherapy. These professionals typically hold advanced degrees in psychology, counseling, social work, or a related field.

Counselors and counseling

Counselors are mental health professionals who provide guidance and support to individuals, couples, families, and groups. Distinct from therapists and psychologists, counselors typically concentrate on addressing specific life challenges and providing practical solutions rather than diagnosing and treating complex mental health disorders or deeply-rooted psychological issues.

Counselors usually have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field; however, a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for certain counseling roles, such as those focused on substance use disorders.

Here are some specific types of counselors:

  • Mental health counselor: Mental health counselor is a broad term for a licensed professional who provides mental health counseling services, often focusing on specific issues or populations. A mental health counselor might help you work through challenges, such as grief, anger, or work and career problems.
  • Family and marriage counselor: A family and marriage counselor specializes in addressing common challenges that arise in family and marital relationships, such as communication issues, conflict resolution, and parenting concerns. Their sessions are goal-oriented, aiming to achieve practical solutions and improvements in relationships.
  • Addiction counselor: An addiction counselor specializes in care for people with problems like substance misuse, gambling, sexual addictions, or hoarding. They often work in group settings, facilitating therapy sessions and offering strategies for recovery and relapse prevention.
  • Religious counselor: Religious counselors provide support in faith crises, marriage, and family issues, incorporating spiritual views into mental health care. Often church leaders, religious counselors have extensive training in both religion and mental health.

Art therapists

Art therapists are trained professionals who use the creative process — such as painting, sculpting, or writing — to improve mental health and well-being. They typically hold a master’s degree in art therapy or a related field.

Research indicates that art therapy, as a supplement to other evidence-based therapies, may assist in treating various mental health conditions, including depression, dementia, schizophrenia, and psychosis. Engaging in creative activities can boost self-esteem, develop talents, and enhance self-sufficiency.

Art therapists work in various settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, and private practice, providing a unique and valuable approach to mental health treatment.

Social workers

Social workers are professionals dedicated to helping individuals and communities with personal and social challenges. They can be found in various settings, including public agencies, hospitals, universities, and private practices.

Their work involves addressing personal issues, disabilities, and social issues, such as substance misuse, housing insecurity, and unemployment. Social workers also play a crucial role in resolving family conflicts, including cases of domestic violence and child abuse.

There are many subtypes of social work. These can include:

  • child, family, and school
  • medical and public health
  • mental health and substance use

To become a social worker, one typically needs a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work, along with relevant licensure or certification.

The short of it is…

Mental health professionals are integral to our well-being, offering support across diverse settings, such as hospitals, schools, communities, and online platforms. They specialize in areas like child, family, and public health, providing essential services ranging from counseling to crisis intervention.

These professionals undergo rigorous training, holding degrees in psychology, counseling, or social work. Their expertise and dedication are crucial in addressing mental health needs, highlighting their indispensable role in society.

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Cost for service per sessionPrescriptions offered?Qualifications/
Education levelOnline or in-person?
Psychologist$100- $250noPh.D. or Psy.D. in psychology, state licensedoctoral degree in psychologyin-person, online
Psychiatrist$100- $300 (initial visits may be higher)yesMD or DO with specialization in psychiatry, state licensemedical degree with specialization in psychiatryin-person, online
Psychoanalyist$100- $300notraining in psychoanalysis, often with a mental health degree and state licensevaries, but often a master’s or doctoral degreetypically in-person, may be online
Psychiatric nurse$75-$150yes, particularly those with advanced practice degrees (such as nurse practitioners)RN with additional training in psychiatric nursing, state licensebachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, specializing in psychiatric nursingtypically in-person, but may be online in some cases
novarious degrees (e.g., M.A., M.S., Ph.D.) in mental health fields, state licensevaries, but often a master’s or doctoral degreein-person, online
Counselor$50-$150nomaster’s degree in counseling or related field, state licensemaster’s degree in counseling or related fieldin-person, online
Art therapist$75-$150nomaster’s degree in art therapy or related field, registration or certification as an art therapistmaster’s degree in art therapy or related fieldtypically in-person
Social workers$50-$150nomaster’s degree in social work (MSW), state licensemaster’s degree in social workin-person, online

When choosing a mental health professional, it’s important to consider several factors to ensure you find the right fit for your needs.

Here’s an overview of key considerations:

  • Credentials and experience: Look for therapists who are licensed and have experience treating your specific concerns.
  • Therapeutic approach: Consider the therapist’s approach to therapy (e.g., cognitive behavioral, mindfulness-based) and whether it aligns with your preferences and goals.
  • Accessibility and availability: Determine if the therapist offers sessions in-person, online, or both, and whether their schedule fits yours.
  • Cost and insurance: Understand the therapist’s fees and whether they accept your insurance or offer a sliding scale for payment based on your income.
  • Compatibility and trust: Trust your gut feeling about whether you feel comfortable and understood by the therapist. It’s OK to try out a few therapists to find the right fit.
  • Red flags: Be aware of any behaviors or actions that make you uncomfortable or seem unprofessional, such as crossing boundaries or dismissing your concerns.

For more detailed guidance on finding a therapist, consider reading this Healthline article.

You can find mental health professionals through several resources, including:

  • Online therapy platforms: Websites and apps like BetterHelp, Talkspace, and Amwell offer access to licensed therapists for virtual sessions. Grow Therapy lets you search for in-person care as well.
  • Online resources for free or low-cost therapy: Organizations like Open Path Collective and 7 Cups offer affordable therapy options, and some therapists offer sliding scale fees based on income.
  • Directories and referral services: Websites like TherapyDen and Inclusive Therapists allow you to search for therapists based on location, specialties, and insurance coverage.
  • Community mental health centers: Local mental health centers often provide therapy services on a sliding scale or free of charge.
  • Health insurance provider: Your health insurance company’s website can help you find in-network therapists and understand your coverage options.

The field of mental health is rich and diverse, offering a range of professionals who specialize in different aspects of mental well-being.

From psychiatrists who can prescribe medication to therapists who provide counseling and psychologists who offer specialized interventions, each plays a crucial role. It’s important to remember that finding the right mental health professional is a personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions, research different therapy types, and trust your instincts until you find the right fit for your needs.