Mental Health Providers: Tips for Finding Them

Mental Health Providers: Credentials, Services Offered, and What to Expect

Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have never seen a psychiatrist before, you may not know how to find someone who meets your needs. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for a mental health provider.

What type of psychiatrist do you need?

Mental health providers identify and treat mental disorders. Must have at least a master’s degree. Some may have higher levels of education, training and credentials. Make sure the provider you choose is licensed to provide mental health services. Licensing and services are subject to provider training, area of ​​expertise, and state law.

Below you will find some of the most common types of mental health providers. Some may specialize in areas such as depression, alcohol or drug abuse, or family therapy. They may work in a private practice or in a hospital, in a public agency or in another institution.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in mental health. This type of physician may further specialize in areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, or addiction psychiatry. This provider can diagnose and treat mental disorders and prescribe medications. A psychiatrist may also offer talking therapy, sometimes called psychotherapy.


A psychologist is trained in psychology, the science that deals with thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Typically, a psychologist holds a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D.

A psychologist can identify and treat many types of mental illness. This provider offers various types of talking therapy. In the US, most psychologists are not licensed to prescribe drugs. But they may work with another health care provider who can prescribe medication if needed.

Psychiatric nurses

A Mental Health Psychiatric Nurse (PMHN) is a Registered Nurse (RN) trained in mental health. A Chartered Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse in Mental Health (PMH-APRN) holds at least a master’s degree in psychiatric mental health care. Other types of advanced practice nurses who offer mental health services include clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP), and nurse with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

The services offered by mental health nurses depend on their education, training, experience, and state law. They can detect and treat mental illness. If state law permits, nurses may prescribe medications.

Graduate student

A physician assistant (PA) practices medicine as a primary care provider or works alongside a physician. Physician assistants may specialize in psychiatry.

They can detect and treat mental illness. They can also advise on causes, treatment, and outlook. A physician assistant can prescribe medication.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

If you prefer a social worker, look for a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with mental health training and experience. A licensed clinical social worker must have a master’s degree in social work. Some have PhDs in social work.

Social workers offer assessment, counseling and a range of other services. What services they offer depends on their licensing and training. They don’t have a license to prescribe drugs. But they may work with another health care provider who can prescribe medication if needed.

Licensed Professional Consultant

The training required for a Licensed Professional Consultant (LPC), Licensed Clinical Professional Consultant (LCPC), or similar positions may vary by state, but most hold at least a master’s degree with clinical experience.

These licensed counselors identify mental health conditions and provide advice on a range of issues. They don’t have a license to prescribe drugs. But they may work with another health care provider who can prescribe medication if needed.

Marriage and family therapist

The Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) is trained in family and individual therapy. This type of therapist can help you overcome family or other relationship problems. They have at least a master’s degree. License and certification requirements vary by state. Look for a licensed family therapist (LMFT). These therapists may work independently or in partnership with other professionals.

What other issues should be considered?

Consider these questions when choosing a mental health provider:

  • Your problem or condition. Most mental health providers treat a range of conditions, but one who specializes in treatment may be best suited to your needs. For example, if you have an eating disorder, you may need to see a psychologist who specializes in this area. If you have family problems, you can see a licensed family therapist. In general, the more severe the symptoms or the more difficult the diagnosis, the more experience and training you should seek from a mental health provider.
  • Whether you need medication, counseling, or both. Some mental health providers are not licensed to prescribe drugs. Therefore, you may need to contact multiple mental health providers. For example, you may need to see a psychiatrist to manage your medications and a psychologist or other mental health provider for counselling.
  • Your health insurance. Your insurance policy may list specific mental health providers who are covered. Coverage may only apply to certain types of mental health providers. Check with your insurance company, Medicare, or Medicaid to find out what types of mental health services are covered and your benefit limits.

How to find a psychiatrist?

To find a mental health provider, you can:

  • Ask your health insurance company for a list of covered providers. Many insurance companies post a list of these providers online.
  • Ask your healthcare provider for a referral or recommendation.
  • Ask trusted friends, family members, or someone in your religious community.
  • Check if your employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP). Or find out if your school’s school health center offers mental health services. Or ask for directions.
  • Contact your local or national mental health organization by phone or online, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
  • Search the Internet for professional associations that have directories of mental health providers, such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy.
  • Check phone book listings or search the Internet for categories such as community service numbers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or social service organizations.

What should you look for in a mental health provider?

When choosing a mental health provider, consider these questions:

  • Education, training, licensing and years of practice. Licensing requirements vary by state.
  • Areas in which the provider specializes and services offered.
  • Approaches and philosophy of treatment.
  • What insurance companies can be used.
  • Opening hours, cost and duration of sessions.

Make a list of questions to ask. Finding the right couple is key to establishing a good relationship and getting the most out of your treatment.