Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness. A psychiatrist's training starts with four years of medical school and is followed by a one-year internship and at least three years of specialized training as a psychiatric resident. A psychiatrist monitors the effects of mental illness on other physical conditions, such as problems with the heart or high blood pressure.
Like a doctor, a psychiatrist is licensed to write prescriptions. Many mental disorders -- such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, or bipolar disorder -- can be treated effectively with specific drugs. If you are working with a psychiatrist, a lot of the treatment may be focused on medication management. Sometimes medication alone is enough to treat the mental illness. Sometimes a combination of medication and psychotherapy or counseling is needed. If that is the case, the psychiatrist may provide the psychotherapy, or the psychiatrist may refer you to a counselor or other type of mental health professional.
Psychologist. A psychologist has a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) or master's degree in psychology, which is the study of the mind and behaviors. Graduate school provides a psychologist an education in evaluating and treating mental and emotional disorders. After completing graduate school, a psychologist completes an internship that lasts up to two years and provides further training in treatment methods, psychological theory, and behavioral therapy.
Licensed psychologists are qualified to do counseling and psychotherapy and provide treatment for mental disorders. They are not, though, medical doctors. That means that with the exception of a couple of states, psychologists cannot write prescriptions. Often a psychologist will work in association with a psychiatrist who provides the medical treatment for mental illness while the psychologist provides the psychotherapy.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor. A psychological counselor is a mental health professional who has a master's degree (MA) in psychology, counseling, or a related field. In order to be licensed, the professional counselor also needs two additional years' experience working with a qualified mental health professional after graduate school. A mental health counselor is qualified to evaluate and treat mental problems by providing counseling or psychotherapy.
Clinical Social Worker. A clinical social worker has at least a master's degree in social work and training to be able to evaluate and treat mental illnesses. In addition to psychotherapy, social workers can provide case management and hospital discharge planning, as well as work as an advocate for patients and their family.
Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse. Some nurses have had special training in providing mental health services. Depending on their level of training and certification, they can evaluate patients for mental illness and provide treatment in the form of psychotherapy. In some states, they are also licensed to prescribe and monitor medications. Nurses also provide case-management services and serve as patient advocates.
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