Types of Mental Health Professionals

On this page, learn the difference between Psychiatric Care, Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Professional Counselor, Clinical Social Worker, Certified Addiction Counselor, or Registered Psychotherapist

Psychiatric Care

People trained for psychiatric care fall into two categories: a psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse practitioner. In both cases, these are the professionals trained to treat psychopathologies with psychotropic drugs. A psychiatrist is a doctor with either a doctor of medicine (MD) degree or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree, and a psychiatric nurse practitioner is a nurse with an advanced degree, normally a doctorate in nursing practice with an emphasis upon psychiatric care. Both are qualified to diagnose, treat and help address mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

General practice doctors or nurse practitioners can also prescribe medications to help with mental and emotional problems. But a general practitioner does not have the breadth of training in psychiatric disorders that a psychiatric care provider does.

Psychologist

A psychologist normally holds a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication in most states.  Psychologists are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.  Psychologists specialize in the science of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. Psychologists treat a range of issues, from relationship problems to mental illnesses, through counseling.

School Psychologists usually hold an advanced degree in psychology.  School Psychologists are trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group therapy, and work with school staff to maximize efficiency in the schools setting.

Licensed Marriage  and Family Therapist

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems. They are a highly experienced group of practitioners, with an average of 13 years of clinical practice in the field of marriage and family therapy. They evaluate and treat mental and emotional disorders, other health and behavioral problems, and address a wide array of relationship issues within the context of the family system. Marriage and Family Therapists broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family.  MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families.

MFTs have graduate training (a Master’s or Doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience.

Licensed Professional Counselor

A Licensed Professional Counselors provide mental health and substance abuse care. Licensed professional counselors are doctoral and master’s-level mental health service providers, trained to work with individuals and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders. LPCs make up a large percentage of the workforce employed in community mental health centers, agencies, universities, hospitals, and organizations, and are employed within and covered by managed care organizations and health plans. Those who are working towards licensure are called Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate (LPCC).

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker or LCSW, is a sub-sector within the field of Social Work. LCSW’s help clients deal with issues involving mental and emotional health. There are a wide variety of specializations the Licensed Clinical Social Worker can focus on. These include specialties such as: working with mental health issues, substance abuse, public health, school social work, medical social work, marriage counseling or children and family therapy. Some may choose to work purely in a research, policy making or administrative capacity. The possible career paths as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker are diverse. An LCSW holds a master’s degree clinical social work and is trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

Colorado has four main levels of certification, three at the certification level and one licensed level. The four levels are known as: the Colorado Addiction Counselor I (CAC-I), Colorado Addiction Counselor II (CAC-II), Colorado Addiction Counselor III (CAC-I) and the Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC). The first three levels require the completion of education as well as a practicum and supervised experience. The LAC level requires a Master’s degree in a Behavioral Science if from another state, or a combination of a degree as well as supervised experience.

Registered Psychotherapist

A Registered Psychotherapist (RP) is a mental health professional registered with the State of Colorado for the practice of psychotherapy.   Applicants for Registration must prove their identity, file their professional contact information, degrees earned, therapeutic orientation, and years of experience. Additionally, applicants must pass a Jurisprudence test on Colorado Mental Health Law and are screened for any prior disciplinary actions, arrests, or criminal convictions in any state. RPs are required to follow the state’s mandatory disclosure guidelines with clients and follow HIPAA privacy requirements with client records. RPs are prohibited from the activities listed in CO Rev Stat § 12-43-222 (2016). Like the other five mental health disciplines, RPs have a regulatory board to make rules about clinical practice, process complaints and administer discipline if appropriate.  RP’s are not required to hold a graduate or undergraduate degree.  Normally this designation is used for those who are preparing for a career in a mental health filed, but such preparation is not required. 


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