Types of Mental Health Care Providers
Mental and behavioral health care is provided by clinicians from several disciplines, often working together in multidisciplinary teams. Here we describe the roles played by these clinicians in the care of children and adolescents with mental health conditions.
Clinicians Who Conduct Assessments and Therapy
Psychologists conduct mental health assessments through clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and testing. Psychologists can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy. Pediatric psychologist is a descriptor often used for a child psychologist who works in health care settings as part of pediatric specialty teams. Pediatric neuropsychologists specialize in brain development and its relationship to a child’s thinking skills, mood, behavior, and social skills. They provide detailed clinical evaluations to clarify diagnoses and guide therapeutic interventions and educational planning.
Degree requirements: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in a field of psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
Licensure & Certification: Psychologists are licensed by state boards.
Clinical Social Workers
Clinical social workers provide individual, group, and family therapy, as well as conduct psychosocial assessments and evaluations to determine mental health diagnosis and treatment needs. While professionals with MSWs can be found in a range of roles outside the domain of mental health, Clinical Social Work is a specialty practice area of social work which requires additional clinical education, training, and licensure, and focuses on the treatment and prevention of mental illness, as well as other emotional and behavioral disturbances or relationship challenges.
Degree and Training Requirements: Master’s or Doctorate's degree in social work and at least 2 years of supervised post-graduate clinical experience
Licensure & Certification: licensing through examination from the Association of Social Work Boards; certification through state Boards of Social Work. Certification varies by state and may be LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) or LICSW (Licensed Independent Social Worker)
Other Counselors & Therapists
The terms counselor and therapist can be used for any licensed clinician who provides psychotherapeutic services. The types of counselors/therapists listed below differ from clinical social workers in that they have master's level training in a field other than social work.
Requirements: Master's degree (M.S. or M.A.) in a mental health-related field such as psychology, counseling psychology, or others, and completion of 2-3 years of supervised post-graduate clinical experience
Licensure & Certification: varies by state and specialty. Examples include:
- LCPC, Licensed Professional Counselor
- LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
- LCADAC, Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor
Clinicians who Prescribe and Monitor Medication
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose mental health medications, prescribe and monitor medications and provide therapy.
Degree requirements: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), plus residency training in psychiatry
Licensure & Certification: state physician licensure; board certification in psychiatry, additional board certification in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
A psychiatric nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse trained to provide mental health care. They are qualified to diagnose patients with mental health disorders and to prescribe treatment.
Degree requirements: Master's of Science in Nursing with a specialization in psychiatric care
Licensure & Certification: State license; Board certification as Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Primary and Specialty Care Physicians
Primary care physicians prescribe more psychotropic medications than do any other group. Many specialists and subspecialists prescribe psychotropic medications, particularly SSRIs, for their patients with chronic illness who see their subspecialist more often than they do their PCP.
Medical Social Workers
Medical Social Workers play key roles in helping patients navigate health care systems, obtaining resources for patients and families, facilitating communication between patients and care teams, as well as finding and implementing solutions to challenges related to health and healthcare.
Degree requirements: Master's degree in social work (MSW)
Licensure & Certification: licensing through the Association of Social Work Boards; certification through state Boards of Social Work