Types of Mental Health Professionals: Which One is Right for You?

The healthcare industry has seen massive growth in the past few decades within the field of mental health. As awareness of the importance of managing your mental health becomes more palatable to the masses, more and more people are starting to reach out for professional help, and with that, the number of fields, specializations, and professions grows. 

Understanding the subtle differences between these mental health professions can be difficult though. Consider a psychologist vs a counselor or a psychiatric nurse practitioner vs psychiatrist – not many would be able to immediately define the differences between them or understand who would be best placed to provide the mental health care they need. To counter this often confusing topic we have built a guide to help determine what professions can assist with what ailments to help you find the care you need with the right mental health professional.


Types of Mental Health Professionals: Which One is Right for You?
Mental health

Psychologists hold a doctoral degree and can assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of both group or individual problems. Within the profession of psychology are several specialist fields that focus on different areas relating to mental health; 

  • A clinical psychologist will deal with a wide range of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders and apply methods for the assessment, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of complex psychological issues.
  • Counseling psychologists address issues relating to marriage, family, work, and one’s social life.
  • Health psychologists – also referred to as medical psychologists – focus on how biology, psychology, behavior, and social factors influence one’s health.
  • Sports psychologists will focus on how psychology influences athletic or sporting performance, exercise, and physical activity. 

Many other fields of psychology specialize in different conditions or mental health. Be sure to conduct the appropriate research to determine which psychologist is appropriate for your situation.

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There are many similarities between a psychologist and a psychiatrist with both being able to diagnose mental health conditions. The key difference, however, is psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who can prescribe medications, while a psychologist is not licensed to do so. Psychiatrists must also have completed a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and complete residency training in psychiatry. 

If you are looking to spend time talking through your issues in a one-on-one or small group setting, or if your issues are relationship-focused, a psychologist may be more suited to your needs. If you are looking for medication to relieve symptoms from a mental health disorder, or you are finding symptoms are debilitating and interfering with your day-to-day life, a psychiatrist may be a better fit. 


A counselor – also known as a clinician or therapist – is trained to evaluate mental health and use therapeutic techniques as a treatment. Counselors can help their clients identify goals and solutions to problems causing emotional turmoil in their lives. While psychologists and psychiatrists focus on talking through your issues or prescribing medication, counselors are big on generating positive behavioral change and tend to focus on creating better practices for one to think, feel, and live.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

A psychiatric nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who takes on a similar role to a psychiatrist. The role can vary from state to state, however, their main focus is to provide assessment, diagnosis, and ongoing therapy for mental health or disorders relating to substance abuse. Depending on location, some psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe medication but may also require supervision from a licensed psychiatrist. 

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners provide general medical care including preventative care and monitoring long-term health to people of all ages – just like a physician. While they do not necessarily specialize in mental health, a family nurse practitioner will work alongside your chosen mental health professional to determine and create a well-rounded treatment plan.

Social Worker

Social workers are trained professionals who help manage all types of vulnerable people, groups, and communities with inpatient discharge, placement in various community services, and other techniques to support healthy living. A social worker generally works with those suffering poverty, discrimination, family issues, and other social injustices. If you require professional services for your mental health you can find assistance via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or contact them via their national helpline.

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