Mental Health Providers: Which Type Is Best For You?

March 13, 2020


There are so many different providers of mental health treatment that it becomes challenging to keep them all straight. You likely came across various titles such as MD’s, DO’s, NP’s, PsyD’s, PA’s, LCSW’s, and the list goes on. You may be wondering what all of these acronyms actually mean, and you’re not alone. It is important not to get confused with broad terms like “therapist” as the above titles are not interchangeable and they have significant differences. To be in the best position to receive the right care, spending time understanding the differences between providers makes sense.

At Talkiatry, we have psychiatrists who are Medical Doctors (MDs) or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs), and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) who are board certified in psychiatric/mental health treatment. However, there are also several other types of providers who have the license to provide mental health treatment. Here, we will explain the differences between the most common providers.

Psychiatrists (MD or DO)


Psychiatrists, of course, have gone to medical school. MDs attend conventional medical school, and their coursework focuses on disease management. DOs attend schooling which integrates the medical model with additional study of the musculoskeletal system. Both MDs and DOs then go on to complete a 4 year residency specializing in psychiatry. During that residency they are exposed to a variety of clinical settings from psychiatric emergency rooms to outpatient mental health clinics. Typically, psychiatrists choose to specialize in either child psychiatry or adult psychiatry and must pass an exam for board certification. 

What can they do?

Simply put, they can do everything that other providers on this list can do plus more. Psychiatrists can diagnose conditions and prescribe medications. They are also trained in a range of therapeutic techniques to address patients needs in lieu of or in conjunction with medications. 


Psychiatrists represent the highest level of mental health care. These providers have completed medical school and a 4 year residency in psychiatry and have also gone on to complete board examinations.

Nurse Practitioners (NP)


Nurse Practitioners attend nursing school and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and subsequently complete a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing practice with a specialty – in this case a specialty in psychiatry. During their training, NPs complete clinical practice in hospital and clinic settings, and with group, individual, and family therapies. After their training, they must complete a clinical exam to receive board certification.

What can they do?

NPs can also diagnose and prescribe, as well as provide different therapies, and many NPs are certified to treat patients across the lifespan. The independence of an NP varies from state to state, but since the Nurse Practitioner Modernization Act in 2015, in New York NPs with greater than 3,600 hours of relevant work experience can practice without a collaborating physician.


NPs are next to Psychiatrists in terms of the highest level of mental health care.  Similar to Psychiatrists, they can diagnose and prescribe medications. No other provider on this list (with few exceptions) is able to provide the same level of care or range of solutions.

Psychologists (PhD or PsyD)


Often when a “therapist” comes to mind, we’re thinking about psychologists. Psychologists have completed a bachelor’s degree, and then completed 4-5+ years in a doctorate program. The focus on these programs is either research for PhD or clinical application for PsyD. Due to these programs, psychologists have not gone to medical school.

What can they do?

Both psychologists with PhDs and PsyDs are able to diagnose conditions and provide a wide range of specific therapies and diagnostic testing tools. In most states (including New York) psychologists cannot prescribe medications.


Psychologists are highly educated. They are well versed in clinical research and will be able to meet your needs in terms of specialized therapies. They might not be a good choice if you are looking to start medications.

Physician Assistants (PA)


PAs must complete a master’s degree in a physician assistant program which is typically 2-3 years in length. During school, PAs have completed education on the medical model, with a focus on primary and acute care, and completed 2,000 hours of supervised clinical practice. After completion of their program, they must take a clinical exam to receive board certification

What can they do?

The scope of what PAs can do is relatively broad compared to many other providers. PAs do not specialize, per se. After their schooling, they may choose to focus their career and “self-specialize”. They diagnose conditions and prescribe medications but do not receive training in therapeutic modalities. Details about supervision from a physician vary between states but overall, PAs must practice with physician supervision or collaboration.


Physician Assistants can do the basics in mental health- diagnose and prescribe. They mostly have a have a strong foundation in primary and acute care, and must practice under the supervision of a physician.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)


Many of us are probably familiar with the role of social workers in the way that they help clients get benefits and services they need. But a social worker who has their their clinical license (LCSW) has completed a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree in social work, as well as completed 3 years of relevant clinical work in psychiatry, and passed a clinical exam.

What can they do?

They are able to diagnose conditions and provide therapies to patients without supervision, and they do not prescribe medications.


Social Workers are a good choice for someone who wants therapy, but they don’t tend to practice specified types of therapy.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC)


Licensed Mental Health Counselors receive either a masters degree or doctorate degree in counseling which includes both coursework and supervised clinical work. They must pass a clinical exam to receive certification.

What can they do?

LMHCs can practice independently at the the advanced level which means they completed 3,000 hours of clinical supervised practice. They’re able to diagnose psychiatric conditions and provide a range of supportive therapies.


Licensed Mental Health Counselors are, again, a good choice for someone who wants to pursue therapy. However, not a great choice for someone who would like a specific form of therapy or to start medications.

What type of mental health provider should you see?

If you need more guidance on where to start in this process, click here, but the factor more important than credentials is the fit. Therapeutic style and personality vary from person to person, and to receive the best mental health treatment, you have to feel comfortable and open with your provider. Having a good connection with your provider will lead to the best outcome for your treatment.  At Talkiatry, we believe that MDs, DOs, and NPs are the best equipped to meet your mental health needs, to meet our team of providers, click here

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a local, accessible and complete mental healthcare solution that accepts insurance. We close the gap for individuals who want to get better, but feel that mental health care has been challenging to navigate up until this point and want a more convenient way to take the first step. Talkiatry takes the traditional local mental health visit and combines it with technology, scale, efficiency, and design to provide the best possible environment for healing.

The Talkiatry branded mental health practice is independently owned and operated by a licensed Psychiatrist. For more information about the relationship between Talkiatry Management Services, LLC and the branded group practice please click here.

Content from the Talkiatry website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The intent of the information provided on this website is for general consumer understanding and entertainment only.

TAGS: nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, types of providers

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