Types of mental health professionals

There are a number of professionals and settings that offer services and treatments to help you reach your recovery goals or assist you during a crisis. Depending on your needs, it may be necessary to see more than one mental health practitioner. If you have insurance, speak with your health insurance provider for information on what kind of services your plan covers. Below is a guide to what kind of treatment each type of mental health practitioner or setting provides so you can find the right one to help you.



Professionals offering prescription and support services

The following professionals are able to prescribe medication. They may also provide assessments, diagnoses and therapy.

Primary Care Physicians (PCPs)

Primary care physicians and pediatricians can prescribe medication and are helpful to reach out to as a first step. While more and more PCPs are being trained to provide mental health care due to shortages, they most often will refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. PCPs can also provide information and support to family members, if you want. They also may schedule regular appointments with you to check in and see how you’re doing.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are doctors with medical training as well as further training in mental health conditions. They are able to make psychiatric assessments, diagnose, offer counseling, perform medical testing, and prescribe and monitor medication. Some psychiatrists also have specialized training in specific areas (e.g., child and adolescent mental health, substance use disorders, or geriatric psychiatry).

Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (NPs)

Psychiatric or mental health NPs who have undertaken further training to care for people with mental health conditions, can assess, diagnose, and provide therapy to treat mental health conditions or substance use disorders. NPs may be required to work under a psychiatrist’s supervision, depending on the state and their level of experience. While there are different levels of practice authority or supervision over NP prescribing depending on the state, NPs can prescribe medication in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Physician Assistants (PAs)

PAs specialized in psychiatry provide mental health services on an inpatient or outpatient basis with the supervision of a psychiatrist.

Professionals offering diagnosis and support services

The following professionals can assess and diagnose mental illness and help patients reach their recovery goals. All of the professionals listed in the two sections below can communicate with the patient’s PCP/Psychiatrist/NP.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists, who have a doctoral degree in psychology, are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group therapy. Psychologists can provide psychological therapies (talking therapies) such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). Clinical psychologists and other psychologists are not doctors and cannot prescribe medication

School Psychologists

School psychologists have advanced degrees in psychology and are licensed to diagnose mental health conditions, administer psychological evaluations, and provide individual and group therapy for students. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments. They apply expertise in mental health and education to help young people succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.

Professionals offering support services

The following professionals are counselors who are trained to provide guidance on personal, social, or psychological problems.

School Social Worker

School social workers are trained mental health professionals who help students address problems they face at home and in school by assisting with student mental health concerns, providing classroom support, delivering individual and group counseling, providing referrals to other resources, and meeting with teachers, parents, and administrators.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers are Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) and are trained to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent mental illness and other emotional struggles someone may experience. They provide individual and group counseling, family therapy, assistance in developing a healthcare plan after being discharged from the hospital, case management (e.g. assistance with family situations, living conditions, school or work situations), and advocacy. Clinical social workers often work in hospitals, clinics, or in private practice.

Peer Support Specialists

Peer specialists have lived experience with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. They have often received training and certification and are prepared to assist others in their recovery process. They assist their peers in creating their recovery goals, support them in their treatment, and model self-help strategies that helped them during their own recovery.

Practice settings where you can go for help

Primary Care Clinic. Patients go to primary care clinics to see a primary care physician. These settings provide a wide range of primary care medical services from routine health examinations to helping you manage chronic conditions. These clinics also coordinate specialist care that you may need.

Community Mental Health Center (CMHC). Community mental health centers provide outpatient community-based services to adults and children with mental illness and substance use disorders. These settings are government-funded and often serve low-income and uninsured patients.

Hospital-Based Practice. Hospital-based practices are partly or fully managed and owned by a hospital. Services are provided in hospital outpatient departments that are integrated into a hospital.

Group Practice. Group practices are owned by a group of clinicians who share patient care duties and office space. Typically, fewer patients are seen on a daily basis than in other settings and patients are able to go to the same clinician for each follow-up visit.

Private Practice. Private mental health practices are owned and operated by a mental health professional who often sets their own schedule and has their own offices. The clinician practices alone, without partners or affiliation with a hospital. Typically, fewer patients are seen on a daily basis than in other settings and patients are able to go to the same clinician for each follow-up visit.

Faith-Based Organizations. Many faith-based organizations (e.g. Catholic Social Services, Jewish Family Services) offer mental health services to individuals, adolescents (aged 12-18), couples and families.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). EAPs arean employee benefit program that provide a variety of support programs to address personal and work-related issues. EAPs offer services including free screenings, short-term counseling, referrals, personal and professional development opportunities, and wellness classes.

School Counseling Services. School counselors offer individual or small-group counseling sessions, crisis response, referrals for additional assistance, as well as collaboration with parents, educators, and community organizations.

University Counseling Services. University counseling services, such as the University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)(link is external), offer clinical services for college students. Services include free screenings, support groups, individual and couples counseling, referral services, crisis services, case management, lunch series, and workshops.