Types of Mental Health Practitioners

What do you do when signs and symptoms that aren't physically manifested in your body still affect you mentally and emotionally throughout the day? Have you ever wondered what type of doctor or mental health specialist should you seek for help?

Knowing what types of mental health professionals are available and the training they receive will help you to find the care that is most appropriate for you.

If you are suffering from a mental illness or a mental disorder, or just not feeling like yourself, a diagnostic evaluation is the first step to getting appropriate treatment. A good diagnostic evaluation will include a complete physical examination by a family physician or internist.

A diagnostic evaluation will also include a complete history of symptoms, i.e., when they started, how long they have lasted, how severe they are, whether they have occurred before and, if so, whether the symptoms were treated and what treatment was given. The mental health provider should also ask you about alcohol and drug use, and if you have had thoughts about death or suicide.

Further, a history should include questions about whether other family members have had a mental illness and, if treated, what treatments they may have received and which were effective. Last, a diagnostic evaluation should include a mental status examination to determine if speech or thought patterns or memory have been affected.

Many professionals in the field of mental health agree that a psychiatrist is best qualified to conduct a diagnostic evaluation. Unlike other mental health providers, a psychiatrist is a physician fully trained in general medicine. The breadth and depth of training is much more extensive for psychiatrists, than for all other mental health providers.

All psychiatrists are trained as general physicians first (Doctor of Medicine — M.D.), followed by a residency and internship in a hospital or clinical setting. They can become certified with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology after eight to ten years of training.

Since psychiatrists are trained as medical doctors they are the only mental health providers who can prescribe medication. Psychologists, social workers and other mental health counselors cannot. Psychiatrists are mental health professionals trained to work with a biopsychosocial model.

They are trained to know the biological components of disease, the "psychological components" such as emotional interactions, behaviors, cognitions, and the "social components" such as environmental factors (i.e., work, home, interpersonal relationships).

Psychiatrists often work in hospital settings (though many practice privately) and are called upon to treat severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, manic-depression, and paranoia.