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Live Well: Guide to Mental Health Professionals

December 8, 2023


If you’re new to mental health care, choosing a provider can be a little confusing. It’s important to understand the expertise and services available from different mental health care providers so you can get the care that’s right for you. This guide will help.

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs or DOs) who completed four years of medical school, a one-year internship, and at least three years of psychiatric residency. They focus on the medical aspects of mental illness and can prescribe medication and other treatments.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists have doctoral degrees (PhDs, PsyDs, or EdDs) in psychology—the study of the mind and behaviors. A doctoral degree in psychology requires at least four to six years of education after completing an undergraduate degree. A one-year internship is also required.
    Psychologists can provide counseling and psychotherapy and conduct psychological testing. They can’t, however, prescribe medication.
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs): These professionals have master’s degrees in psychology, counseling, or similar areas. Licensed mental health counselors can evaluate and treat mental health issues with psychotherapy or counseling.
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT): People with this license have at least a master’s degree in the field and may have also completed an internship. They evaluate and treat individuals, couples, and family members with a family-centered approach.
  • Clinical Social Workers: Clinical social workers have a master’s degree in social work. They also have special training in evaluating and treating mental illnesses. In addition to providing psychotherapy, social workers can provide case management and hospital discharge planning.
  • Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurses: These nurses have special training in mental health care. Those with the proper certification can evaluate patients for mental illness and provide psychotherapy. In some states, they’re also licensed to prescribe and monitor medications.

You may need more than one provider

In some cases, a combination of different kinds of mental health care—such as medication and therapy—may produce the best results. That’s why many people see more than one kind of mental health care provider. Mental health care is covered by your benefits plan. Log in to Understanding Your Plan to view your benefits at a glance, or download your booklet with more complete information.