Which Behavioral Health Professional Is Right For You?

There are many types of behavioral health professionals

Finding the right one for you may require some research.

In order to choose the best behavioral health care provider for your needs, it is a good idea to describe the symptoms and/or problems to your primary care physician first. He or she can suggest the type of behavioral health professional you should call.

You can also begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a preference for one particular kind of training or educational background? Behavioral health care providers come from a number of different educational backgrounds and may be psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, advanced practice nurses or clinical nurse specialists, or they may have another kind of background or training.
  • Is it important to you that the counselor be legally authorized to prescribe drug treatment if necessary? Only therapists with certain educational backgrounds and licenses are legally allowed to prescribe medications.
  • Do you have a preference for a male or female therapist, or is this not important to you?

Types of behavioral health care providers

Who can prescribe psychiatric medication for me?

Either Psychiatric Nurse Clinical Specialists or Psychiatrists are able to prescribe psychiatric medication. Some Primary Care Physicians and Nurse Practitioners may also prescribe basic psychiatric medications although for more complex situations, some prefer that an evaluation and medication prescription be written by a behavioral health practitioner.

Psychiatric Nurse Mental Health Clinical Specialists (RNCSs)

RNCSs are Registered Nurses with additional special education in psychiatric care. These advanced practice nurses may offer behavioral health care, which includes evaluation, diagnosis, consultation and counseling, as well as prescribing medications.

Psychiatrists (MDs or DOs)

MDs or DOs are licensed medical doctors who have chosen psychiatry as their residency, or specialization. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication and may also practice some form of psychotherapy. Psychiatrists may be Board Certified in psychiatry and/or child psychiatry.

Who can I see for counseling?

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers, Psychologists, Licensed Mental Health Counselors and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are all qualified to provide behavioral health counseling. Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors work specifically with persons around substance use disorder. Board Certified Behavior Analysts work to develop behavioral programs for individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers (LICSWs)

LICSWs, have a master's degree in social work (MSW) and additional supervised experiences. Social Workers are trained in psychotherapy and social work techniques. Generally, social work professionals provide counseling to individuals, couples, families and groups directed toward specific goals.

Psychologists (Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D)

Psychologists may have a Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D degree, all of which are doctoral level credentials. Psychologists have received extensive training in research or in clinical psychology, with additional supervised experiences after they receive their degree. Some Psychologists may also have training in psychological and/or neuropsychological testing.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors (L.M.H.C.s)

L.M.H.C.s, hold a master's degree from a graduate program in the behavioral health field. They may render behavioral health care services to individuals, families or groups. L.M.H.C.s use therapeutic techniques to define goals and develop treatment plans aimed toward prevention, treatment and resolution of behavioral and emotional dysfunction.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists LMFTs)

LMFTs hold either a Masters or Doctoral level degree and have special expertise in treating the family. They may work with individuals, couples and families in addressing family issues.

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LADCs)

LADCs are licensed to assist people in addressing substance use disorder problems. They deal with individuals who may be addicted to alcohol and/or prescription or illegal drugs. They may work individually with patients or in group settings.  They may also offer counseling to the families of patients.

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs)

BCBAs hold a graduate level degree and a certificate in behavior analysis. They have extensive training and experience in designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating a wide range of Applied Behavior Analysis programs for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.