How to choose a mental health professional

By Walgreens Jan 03, 2022 • 6 min

Several different professions provide mental health services, each of which has its own training and area of expertise. This can make searching for a mental health professional seem overwhelming, especially if you're not familiar with common terminology.

Here is a brief list of some of the most common types of mental health professionals who may help you or your family live happier, more productive lives.

  • Psychiatrist – A psychiatrist is a physician (MD or DO) who has completed medical school and residency and focuses specifically on the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Psychiatrists can also prescribe and monitor medication and provide therapy.1

  • Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioner – Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses with advanced degrees, additional education and specialized training, which allow them to assess, diagnose and provide therapy for mental health conditions. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe and monitor medications if state law allows.1,2

  • Psychologist – A psychologist has a doctoral degree, usually a PhD or PsyD, in clinical psychology or another specialty, such as counseling, and is trained to evaluate a person’s mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and testing. Psychologists provide individual or group therapy; however, they generally can't prescribe medication unless specifically licensed to do so.3

  • Licensed professional counselor – Licensed professional counselors have a master's degree in counseling or a related mental health field and must complete supervised training. They provide assessment and counseling for a range of mental health concerns but are not licensed to prescribe medication.3

  • Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor – Certified substance abuse counselors have specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse.4 They specialize in helping individuals and families recover from addiction.

  • School psychologist – School psychologists have an advanced degree in school psychology and have completed supervised practice in a school setting. School psychologists are trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group therapy, and work with parents and school staff to create a safe, healthy and supportive learning environment.4,5  

  • Licensed clinical social worker – Licensed clinical social workers have a master's degree in social work and are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and provide counseling but cannot prescribe medication. They can also provide case management and advocacy services.1

  • Licensed marriage and family therapist – Licensed marriage and family therapists have a master's degree and specialized training with couples and families in individual and group settings. Licensed marriage and family therapists are able to diagnose mental health issues but can't prescribe medication.1,4  

  • Pastoral counselor – Pastoral counselors are clergy members trained in clinical pastoral therapy. They can diagnose mental health issues and provide counseling.1,4  

Finding the right fit for your needs

There are several questions you may ask when seeking a mental health professional, including:

  • What are the credentials of this professional and are they licensed in my state? 

  • Does this professional have experience in treating people with my symptoms or condition?

  • How does this professional usually treat someone with my issue? 

  • How are appointments typically structured?

  • How is after-hours care administered?  

  • Can this professional or another staff member be contacted outside business hours?


There are practical considerations when researching mental health professionals, as well, which may include:

  • Does this professional accept my insurance? 

  • How long is the average appointment wait time?

  • Is there a fee to cancel appointments?  

When to contact another mental health provider

Treatment works best when you have a good relationship with your mental health provider. If you meet with a provider and don't feel comfortable talking honestly about your thoughts and feelings, you may want to discuss this hesitation at your next appointment. However, if you don't think the mental health professional is the right fit for you, consider finding a different provider or another type of treatment. 

Finding the right mental health professional doesn't have to be difficult, especially when you utilize the best resources. Learn about the different types of mental health therapy, video chat live with a therapist for an introductory consultation today, or visit Mental Health America for a comprehensive list of mental health support organizations and therapists in your area, as well as to help you find the care you need.

Published on January 3, 2022.

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