A mental health professional is a community services provider who offers services for the purpose of improving an individual’s mental health or to treat mental illness. They include mental health counselors who offer therapy sessions to their clients. There are over a half-dozen different professions that provide services that focus on helping a person overcome a mental health concern. The largest difference between the types of professionals is usually what they focus or specialize in, and their educational background.
Psychiatrist – A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and the only professional that specializes in mental health care and can prescribe medications. Most psychiatrists focus on prescribing the appropriate medication that’s going to work best for that individual and their concerns; a few also do psychotherapy.
Psychologist – A psychologist is a professional who does psychotherapy and has a doctorate degree (such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D.). Psychologists receive specific training in diagnosis, psychological assessment, a wide variety of psychotherapies, research and more.
Clinical Social Workers – Typically a clinical social worker will have completed a Master’s degree in social work (M.S.W.) and carry the LCSW designation if they are doing psychotherapy (Licensed Counselor of Social Work). They go through thousands of hours of direct clinical experience, and the program focuses on teaching principles of psychotherapy and social work.
Psychiatric Nurses – Most psychiatric nurses are trained first as a regular registered nurse (R.N.), but get specialized training in psychiatry and some forms of psychotherapy, typically including up to 500 hours of direct clinical experience.
Marriage & Family Therapist – These therapists tend to have a Master’s degree and typically have between hundreds to thousands of hours of direct clinical experience. Because this designation varies from state to state, the quality of the professional may also vary significantly from person to person.
Licensed Professional Counselor – The requirements for this designation, which can be in addition to the professional’s educational degrees, vary from state to state. In Maryland, they are Master’s level professionals who have had thousands of hours of direct clinical experience.
These professionals often deal with the same illnesses, disorders, conditions, and issues; however, their scope of practice differs and more particularly, their positions and roles in the fields of mental health services and systems. The most significant difference between mental health professionals are the laws regarding required education and training across the various professions.
The job tasks are a sampling of job tasks with a clinical emphasis, and represents a level of line staff in community programs reporting to a community supervisor in a small site based program.
•Maintain confidentiality of records relating to clients’ treatment.
•Encourage clients to express their feelings, discuss what’s happening in their lives, and help them develop insight into themselves and their relationships.
•Guide clients in the development of skills and strategies for dealing with their problems.
•Prepare and maintain all required treatment, records and reports.
•Counsel clients individually and in group, to assist in overcoming dependencies (seeking new relationships), adjusting to life, and making changes.
•Collect information about clients through interviews, observations, and tests.
•Act as the client’s advocate in order to coordinate required services or to resolve emergency problems in crisis situations.
•Develop and implement treatment (or “person-centered”) plans based on clinical experience and knowledge.
•Collaborate with other staff members to perform clinical assessments and develop treatment plans.
•Evaluate client’s physical or mental condition based on review of client information