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Mental health professionals: What they do

Talk therapy is often used in combination with antidepressant medication to treat depression. With all of the different types of therapists out there, it may be tough to figure out how they’re different and which one’s best for you. Here’s some information to help you get started.

PSYCHIATRISTS are medical doctors who have completed four years of medical school and at least four years of specialized study and training in psychiatry. They provide medical and psychiatric evaluations, treat psychiatric disorders, provide talk therapy, and prescribe medications.

PSYCHOLOGISTS are specialists in psychology and either have a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in clinical, educational, counseling, or research psychology. They can provide psychological evaluations and talk therapy. Because psychologists are not MDs, they can’t prescribe medication (except in a small number of states).

SOCIAL WORKERS either have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctoral degree. Social workers provide various services, including assessment of psychiatric illnesses, case management, hospital discharge planning, and psychotherapy. Because social workers are not MDs, they can’t prescribe medication.

PSYCHIATRIC/MENTAL HEALTH NURSES may have various degrees ranging from associate’s to bachelor’s to master’s to doctoral. Depending on their level of education and licensing, they provide a broad range of services, including assessing psychiatric illnesses, case management, and talk therapy. In some states, psychiatric nurses can prescribe medication.

LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS have a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a similar discipline and have 2 years of postgraduate experiences. They can provide services such as diagnosing psychiatric illnesses and counseling.

It’s important to know that licensed medical professionals are required by law to protect the privacy of your information. Seeking help from a mental health professional is something you can feel good about. Because when the right patient-therapist connection is made, positive things can happen.

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Looking for a therapist?

Here are a few good places to find a doctor, therapist, or counselor.

Therapist Q & A

Finding the right mental health professional is an important decision. Speak with different professionals to find the one you’re most comfortable with. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—not only is it expected, it’s encouraged.

Questions to help you get the conversation started
  • What type of training and experience have you had?
  • What is your treatment philosophy/method?
  • What type of health insurance do you accept?
  • How often will I have an appointment?
  • How long do appointments usually last?
  • How do you handle billing?
  • Do you offer a sliding scale to help with out-of-pocket costs?
  • How can I reach you in an emergency?
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