Mental Health Providers: Who Are They and What Do They Do? Written By Amber Creamer, LPCC Picture By Canva

By | Feb 15, 2024

There are several different types of providers that fall under the umbrella of “mental health
provider,” but they differ by focus and specialty. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to understand
what these providers do and how they help people. Being able to understand the scope of
practice of the different types of providers can help you feel better faster. You don’t have to deal
with the frustration of reaching out and scheduling an appointment just to find out they can’t help
you. It’s time to take control of your mental health and healing journey by gaining an
understanding of the different types of mental health providers and what they specialize in.

Providers that can prescribe medication:
Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. Their training has provided
them with the skills to treat mental health conditions with medication. Appointments with a
psychiatrist are often short, twenty to thirty minutes in length, with a focus on your symptoms
and how to alleviate them with the help of medication. These providers typically refer out to
other providers on the list below to provide talk therapy.
Common Credential Abbreviations: MD

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have completed advanced training in
mental health. They can diagnose and treat mental health concerns, while also providing therapy
and counseling to their clients. Depending on their state of licensure they may be able to
prescribe medications as well.
Common Credential Abbreviations: NP, PMHNP

Doctoral Level Providers:

Psychologist
Psychologists can treat and diagnose mental health concerns like the previous two providers.
They are also able to provide psychological testing in addition to therapy. They use
psychological testing to help determine the underlying cause of the client’s symptoms and how
to best treat them.

Common Credential Abbreviations: PsyD, PhD, EdD

Master’s Level Providers:

Professional Counselor
Professional Counselors have completed their training in counseling, psychology, or a related
field. These providers utilize counseling to help their clients accomplish their therapeutic goals.
Professional counselors can work with individuals, couples, or families depending on their
experience and training.
Common Credential Abbreviations: LPC, LMHC, LPCC, LAC, LCPC

Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and Family Therapists have completed similar coursework as Professional Counselors
with more of an emphasis on couples, children, and/or family counseling. These professionals
provide counseling or therapy to individuals, but their primary focus is on healing and changing
family dynamics and relationships.
Common Credential Abbreviations: LMFT, MFT, LAMFT

Clinical Social Workers
Clinical social workers have an educational background in social work. Their training and
education are similar to the other mater’s level providers, but there is an added component in
case management. Therefore, social workers can provide counseling and case management to
help advocate for their clients.
Common Credential Abbreviations: LCSW, CSW, LISW, LMSW

Other Professionals you may come across:

Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor
Certified alcohol and drug counselors treat individuals who have problems with alcohol and/or
substance abuse. These providers are often in recovery from an alcohol and/or substance abuse
problem as well. They use their lived experience and training to help their clients. They often
work in treatment centers that provide individual and group counseling. Their goal is to help
their clients identify and address the impact of substance use on their lives and relationships.
Common Credential Abbreviations: CAS, SAP, CADAC, CAP, CAC

Peer Specialist
Peer specialists have lived experience with mental health struggles or a diagnosis. Currently,
there are no education requirements to be a peer specialist, but they can elect to complete a
certification program. Peer specialists use this lived experience to help their clients navigate their
struggles with mental health and wellness successfully. Their goal is to help their clients achieve
long-term recovery from their problems by connecting them with resources and providing
support.
Common Credential Abbreviations: NCPS

Pastoral Counselor
Pastoral Counselors are ministers, chaplains, pastors etc. Some pastoral counselors have
specialized training in exploring the connection between mental health and spiritual concerns.
Other pastoral counselors have training focused solely on spiritual concerns and development.
Their goal is to help people deepen their faith while exploring the barriers mental health may
pose to this.
Common Credential Abbreviations: CCPT, CPC

Life Coach
Life coaches are individuals who help their clients set and create actionable steps to achieve their
goals. The focus of their work tends to be present and future-oriented. Something to keep in
mind is that coaching is not therapy. Life coaches are not able to provide the same level of care
when it comes to addressing mental health concerns as master’s level providers, doctoral level
providers, or providers that prescribe medication. There are no education or certification
requirements to be a coach at this time, but there are certification programs coaches can elect to
complete.
Common Credential Abbreviations: CPLC

References
(2023, October 17). Credential Abbreviations. NetworkTherapy.com A Mental Health Network.
Retrieved February 7, 2024, from https://www.networktherapy.com/directory/credentials.asp#c2
NAMI (2020, April). Types of Mental Health Professionals. National Alliance of Mental Illness.
Retrieved February 7, 2024, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-
Illness/Treatments/Types-of-Mental-Health-Professionals
Saling, J. (2021, December 8). Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling. Retrieved February 7, 2024,
from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/guide-to-psychiatry-and-counseling

About The Author


Amber Creamer is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified EMDR therapist. She is the owner of Hello Life Counseling Collective, Inc.- a virtual private practice serving women in California, Georgia, and Florida. Amber’s work focuses on helping women overcome negative childhood experiences so they can learn to quiet their inner critic and live their lives boldly without second-guessing. She is passionate about helping her clients build lives they love and prioritize their mental wellness through EMDR and talk therapy. When Amber is not seeing clients, she enjoys trying new restaurants and trips to HomeGoods. You can learn more about her by visiting her website www.hellolifecounseling.com.

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