Choosing a Behavioral Health Provider

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Choosing a behavioral health provider can be a challenge. Whether seeking input from a primary care provider or choosing one personally, here are some things to know when considering a behavioral health provider:


A psychiatrist is a physician — a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO). A psychiatrist can:

  • Diagnose and treat mental health disorders
  • Provide psychological counseling (psychotherapy)
  • Prescribe medication


A psychologist is trained in psychology and holds a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, EdD). A psychologist:

  • Can diagnose and treat a number of mental health disorders, providing psychological counseling in one-on-one or group settings
  • Cannot prescribe medication unless licensed to do so
  • May work with another provider who can prescribe medication if needed

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

A psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) has a master’s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing. They can:

  • Assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses
  • Prescribe a treatment plan, including medications
  • Conduct psychotherapy sessions

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) has a master’s degree in social work (MSW) or a doctorate in social work (DSW or PhD). Specifically, they:

  • Provide assessment, diagnosis, and counseling
  • Are not licensed to prescribe medication
  • May work with another provider who can prescribe medication if needed