Getting help for mental, emotional, spiritual, or relationship issues can be difficult. Finding the right mental health professional can help you take control of any issue in your life.
We’ve pulled together the basic information you need to learn about different types of mental health professionals. Keep reading to learn who can help you.
The first image that comes to mind when many people think of a psychologist is a person lying on a leather couch, telling the doctor their feelings. That does sometimes happen — but psychologists do more than ask you how you feel.
Psychologists specialize in the science of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. They work in places like private offices, hospitals, or schools. Psychologists treat a range of issues, from relationship problems to mental illnesses, through counseling.
A psychologist usually holds a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. Psychologists can’t prescribe medication in most states.
Psychiatrists mainly diagnose, treat, and help prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They use psychiatric medicine, physical exams, and lab tests.
A psychiatrist is a doctor with either a doctor of medicine (MD) degree or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree.
General practice doctors can also prescribe medications to help with mental and emotional problems. But many people prefer to go to a psychiatrist for complicated disorders. Psychiatrists’ specialties can include:
- children and adolescents
- forensic psychiatry
- learning disabilities
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 many people find that it helps them explore deep psychological and emotional disturbances that could create patterns of bad behavior without them realizing it.
Be careful in selecting a psychoanalyst. The title and credential is not protected by federal or state law, which means that anyone can call themself a psychoanalyst and advertise their services.
Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who specialize in mental health. They’re known for their therapeutic relationships with the people who seek their help.
Psychiatric nurses perform psychological therapy and administer psychiatric medication. They often deal with challenging behavior related to mental health conditions. They operate under the supervision of a medical doctor.
“Psychotherapist” is a general term for lots of different types of mental health professionals. This can include psychologists and therapists. These professionals all provide psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a type of “talking therapy.” It’s designed to improve your mental health and general wellbeing.
There are many different schools of psychotherapy. They can involve therapeutic conversations, group therapy, expressive therapy, and more. The most popular type is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You can use CBT to help learn how to change bad behaviors, thought patterns, or emotions.
“Mental health counselor” is a broad term used to describe someone who provides counseling. Their titles may also include the terms “licensed” or “professional.” It’s important to ask about a counselor’s education, experience, and the types of services involved since the term is vague. Counselors can specialize in fields like:
- job stress
- general stress
A family and marriage counselor specializes in common problems that can come up in families and married couples, from differences to arguments. The length of the therapy is normally brief. The sessions are typically focused on specific issues and reaching quick resolutions.
This type of therapy is also used on a one-on-one basis. Group sessions may be used sometimes if one person’s problem affects people close to them. You might see this with counseling for conditions like eating disorders or addiction.
Addiction counselors treat people with addictions. While this usually involves substance use or gambling problems, it can also include less common addictions such as sexual addictions or hoarding.
Addiction counseling is often done in a group setting. This is similar to the methods used by Alcoholics Anonymous. It can also be private or with loved ones affected by the addiction.
Religious counselors are also known as pastoral counselors. They’re 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. This is all done within a spiritual context.
These counselors are often leaders in area churches. They may have extensive religious and mental health training. They often conduct sessions on a one-on-one basis or in groups. You may also be able to do sessions in couples or family settings.
Art therapists deal in a very specific type of therapy. This method involves using creativity in ways like painting, sculpture, and writing to explore and help with depression, medical illnesses, past traumatic events, and addiction.
People who believe in this type of therapy think it can help you express underlying thoughts and feelings that traditional talking therapy may not expose.
Social workers are dedicated to helping people cope with solve issues in their lives. These issues can include personal problems and disabilities. Social workers can be public employees or they may work in other areas including hospitals, universities, and as therapists with the correct licensing.
They may also address social problems like substance use, 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. These can include:
- child, family, and school
- medical and public health
- mental health and substance use
A mental health professional’s training depends on their specific field as well as the state they practice in. Psychologists often require a Ph.D., while psychiatrists require medical degrees. Almost every state requires all types of counselor to have a college degree with 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
You have an important choice to make if you think it’s time to see a psychologist or therapist. Picking the right person to help you overcome any emotional or mental troubles is important. Keep these in mind when you’re choosing someone to talk to:
Taking the first step towards seeking help can be difficult. Knowing what type of mental health professional you want to talk to can help the process.