There are many types of mental health professionals varying in education, experience, certifications, and specialties. Some of the most widely known mental health professions are listed below.
A psychologist is a scientist and/or clinician who studies psychology, the systematic investigation of the human behavior and mental processes. There are many subsets in the field of psychology dealing with mental health,
the most common being clinical psychology.
Clinical psychology is the application of psychology to problematic mental distress in a health and social care context. It is a specific subset of the field of psychology. A clinical psychologist assesses
mental health problems; conducts and uses scientific research to understand mental health problems; develops, provides and evaluates psychological care; and provides intervention when it is needed.
Psychologists who focus on treating mental health specialize in evaluating patients and providing therapy.
In addition to therapy, psychologists are also trained to administer and interpret psychological personality tests such as the MMPI and the Rorschach
inkblot test, and various standardized tests of intelligence, memory, and neuropsychological functioning. These tests may aid in the diagnosis (using
the DSM-IV) of the patient's condition (particularly in severe or complex cases) and help guide treatment planning.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and one of the few professionals in the mental health industry who specializes and is certified in treating mental illness using the biomedical approach to mental disorders
including the use of medications.
As part of their evaluation of the patient, psychiatrists are one of only a few mental health professionals who may conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests and EEGs, and may order brain imaging studies such
as CT or CAT, MRI, and PET scanning. A medical professional should evaluate the patient for any medical problems or diseases that may be the cause of the mental illness.
Historically psychiatrists have been the only mental health professional with the power to prescribe medication to treat specific types of mental illness. However, in certain regions, Physician Assistants, psychiatric nurses, and psychologists
may also have the authorization to prescribe such medications.
Clinical social worker
A clinical social worker assesses, diagnoses, intervenes and treats individuals, families and groups with bio-psychosocial problems or disorders. Social workers
often partner with an MD if they feel medication should be part of treatment. State licensing boards and national certification boards require clinical social workers to have a masters (MSW) or doctoral
degree (DSW or PhD).
Psychiatric and mental health nursing
Psychiatric nurses or mental health nurses work with people with a large variety of mental health problems, often at the time of highest distress, and usually within a hospital setting.
A pastoral counselor is typically an ordained minister, rabbi, or priests who provides mental health therapeutic services. A pastoral counselor is usually trained in psychology or counseling
as well as in religious and spiritual matters.
There are also many types of therapists that may hold a Ph.D., a master's degree or a bachelor's degree. Other practitioners include but aren't limited to licensed marital and family therapists, marriage, family and child counselors, licensed professional
counselors, and licensed mental health counselors.
These professional licenses are issued by U.S. states or other national or regional certification boards to graduate degree holders and license them to practice clinical mental health counseling and, usually, non-medical psychotherapy.