Who Does What in the World of Mental Health Practitioners

In the world of physical health, doctor’s specialties are quite clear. Cardiologists treat your heart, dermatologists keep your skin healthy and neurologists make sure your brain is in working order.

When we shift over to mental health professionals, the lines blur. While many mental health practitioners share the same general background, individual expertise and education vary greatly. So, the question poses itself—aside from their title, what differs in the types of mental health professionals?

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Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are licensed physicians who’ve attained an advanced degree, either an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe medicine for the treatment of certain mental health conditions. Additionally, some practice talk-based therapy as a form of treatment.

Psychologists

The level of education required to become a licensed psychologist varies from state to state, with a handful of states requiring a master’s degree, and most others requiring a Ph.D. Psychologists do not attend medical school, and as such are unable to prescribe medicine in most states. In New Jersey, a person must have a doctorate from an American Psychological Association (A.P.A.) licensed school. Psychologists often practice in different specialties, such as counseling psychology, sport psychology or addiction psychology, according to the A.P.A.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

After obtaining a Master of Social Work degree, many go on to become licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.). An L.C.S.W. can utilize many different types of approaches to treating symptoms, with some of the most common being cognitive behavioral, group and interpersonal therapies.

Counselors

The term counselor is often used as an umbrella term to describe an individual who uses a form of talk therapy to help patients work through problems they’re facing. Counselors can pursue a number of different career paths. These include becoming a school counselor, addiction counselor or marriage counselor. While most states require psychologists to hold a Ph.D., many only require a master’s degree to become a licensed counselor. In New Jersey, a person can apply to either become a Licensed Associate Counselor (L.A.C.) or a Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.); a master’s degree is required for both and additional supervised counseling hours required to become an L.P.C.

Peer Workers

Sometimes the best insight comes from someone who has been through a similar situation as the one you’re attempting to work through. Peer workers fill this need, offering advice and guidance based on their past experiences dealing with their own mental health conditions. Courses to become a certified peer worker are becoming increasingly popular, and many mental health practices have started to add this position to their team.

Pastoral Counselor

When choosing to take a faith-based approach to therapy, it may be best to seek out the services of a pastoral counselor. Often members of the clergy, pastoral counselors may hold a degree in pastoral counseling or have undergone training in mental health counseling.


Inspira Health offers comprehensive behavioral health services for children, adolescents and adults. For more information: http://www.inspirahealthnetwork.org/behavioral-health. To make an appointment or to refer a patient, call our Behavioral Health Access Counselors at 1-800-INSPIRA or request an appointment online.