Types of Mental Health Professionals

Types of Mental Health Professionals

Psychologist, counselor, psychiatrist, social worker etc., are all types of mental health professionals you’ve probably heard about before. The question is what’s the difference? What do they do and who do I need to see for what I need? Well, ask no more. This article will address these questions. It will also help guide anyone interested in studying to become a mental health professional, to decide which path to chose. Note that in mental health practice, any of the professionals below who conducts psychotherapy with clients is referred to as a therapist. In many countries, these professionals need to apply for, and pass licenses before they can practice therapy/counseling.

Social Worker

A social worker is a mental health professional who helps people better their lives, often within a community context. Social workers usually do this by working with people in their various social settings. A social worker can work with your school, hospital, community, local and family, to help make sure your wellbeing is being taken care of. Although some some social workers prefer to focus on facilitating services for people’s wellbeing, some focus on conducting therapy. Social workers work in hospitals, clinics, private organizations, women and child welfare organizations, halfway houses, etc.

Education: Masters in Social Work, 1 – 3 years internship/supervised practice

Focus Areas: Mild to moderate mental health issues/illness & community related issues


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health. This professional often works in a general hospital or psychiatric hospital. Because of their medical background, psychiatrists are the main mental health professionals allowed to prescribe psychotropic drugs to patients. They may or may not conduct therapy. In some cases, they will only prescribe and manage medication, and work with another mental health professional who will provide with therapy. In other instances, your psychiatrist will double as your therapist.

Education: Bachelor’s Degree and/or Medical School & 4 years Residency

Focus Areas: Moderate – Severe mental health issues/illness.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

These mental health professionals are registered nurses who specialize in mental health. They often work in hospitals and clinics although they may sometimes work independently. Psychiatric mental health nurses work with individuals, with families, and in the community. They may also work with other mental health professionals to help people with their mental and physical wellbeing. In hospitals or clinics, they are often responsible for giving medication to patients. However, one would have to be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in order to prescribe medication.

Education: Nursing degree, psychiatric nursing certificate

Focus Areas: Moderate to severe mental health issues/illness.

Psychologist / Psychotherapist

A psychologist is a mental health professional whose graduate education is primarily in psychology. There are many specializations in psychology including but not limited to industrial (work), social, experimental, counseling, neuro (brain & nervous system), educational, and clinical psychology. These variations are based on the focus area that graduate training was in. Not all psychologists practice psychotherapy. Some focus on areas such as teaching, research, consultation and working for organizations to develop products and services.  Psychologist work with hospitals, clinics and private organizations. In some parts of the world, with additional training psychologists can prescribe mediation.

Education: Masters and/or PhD (includes MA degree) in Psychology, 1 – 3 years internship/supervised practice

Focus Areas: Mild, moderate & sometimes severe mental health issues/illness.

Professional Counselor/Counselor

When we refer to counselors here, we are talking about professional counselors who have degrees in professional counseling. The work counselor here should not be confused with councillor (click word for meaning). Like psychologists counselors can also vary in their specializations. Examples include marriage and family therapists/counselors, school counselors, addiction counselors, and clinical counselors. However for the most part, most licensed professional counselors deal with many different types of issues. Some on the other hand, have more experience in specific areas. Counselors work in hospitals, clinics, and private organizations.

Education: Masters and/or Phd (includes MA degree) in Counseling, 1 – 3 years internship/supervised practice

Focus Areas: Mild to moderate mental health issues/illness.



Author: Petrina S. Adusei

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