Mental Health Professional

Psychologists

Mental Health ProfessionalMental Health Professional

A mental health professional is a person who offers services for the purpose of improving an individual's mental health and/or researches in the field of mental health.

Definition of a Mental Health Professional

Mental health is defined differently in different cultures. Concepts of mental health include well-being, autonomy, competence, and self-actualization.  From a cross-cultural perspective, it is nearly impossible to define mental health comprehensively. It is, however, generally agreed that mental health is broader than a lack of mental disorders.

Types of Mental Health Professionals

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.

Psychologist

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.

Psychiatrists

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.

Pastoral counselors

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.

Other professionals

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.

Similarities & Differences

The most significant differences between mental health professionals are specialties, education, and experience. Most qualified mental health professionals will refer a patient or client to another professional if the specific type of treatment needed is outside of their scope of practice. Additionally, many mental health professionals may sometimes work together using a variety of treatment options such as concurrent medication & therapeutic techniques.

Additional Information

For more information, please click on the linked websites listed below.

Glossary of Terms Commonly Used in Mental Health

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