There are many types of mental health providers. Use this list to understand the differences between the kinds of providers and help you find the right fit or understand who is helping your child.
Remember that mental or behavioral health care services should be set up close to where you live. Your treatment plan can include local support services as well as family members, teachers or other important people in your child’s life. To find resources in your state, click here.
Psychiatrists are licensed doctors (MD or DO). They test, diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Their training means they can order medicine, as well and plan and carry out treatment. Some are specially trained to treat children and teens.
Psychologists study how the brain works. They may test (evaluate), assess and treat for mental health conditions. They do not prescribe medicine.
These doctors focus on naming and treating behavior and development disorders in kids and teens. They are licensed pediatricians (doctors for children) with more training in child behavior and development.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have more education and experience. They work with doctors to test, diagnose and manage medicine for kids and teens with developmental, behavior and health problems. Nurse practitioners also give advice to parents about raising children, behavior and discipline.
Clinical Social Worker
Social workers use their knowledge of human behavior to help children, families and groups solve life problems. They may use counseling (talking) or other interventions.
Counselors help people have better personal, social, educational or career growth and adjustment. They also diagnose and treat mental or emotional disorders.
Clinical Chemical Dependency Counselor
Clinical chemical dependency counselors are certified by the state. They help people who use (abuse) substances like alcohol, tobacco or drugs.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists work with all family members. They help couples, families and groups. They look at how behavior affects family members and relationships with each other. Treatment can be with one person, with couples and with families.
School counselors help students with personal, social, academic and career development. They may provide one-on-one counseling, small group counseling and classroom teaching.
Pastoral counselors are clergy (church) members. They are trained to diagnose and provide counseling.
Certified Peer Specialist
These specialists can help with mental health conditions or substance use (abuse). They can help with recovery. They provide support, mentoring and guidance.
Pediatricians are trained medical doctors. They treat children with mental or physical illnesses. If you do not know who to ask for help, start with you pediatrician. They already know your child.
Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist
An Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist studies a child’s behavior to figure out ways how to help them. ABA therapy is usually used for children with autism. ABA uses positive reinforcement (rewards) to help make long-term positive behavior changes. ABA therapists have different backgrounds and training.
Other Qualified Behavioral Health Specialists
These specialists work with a licensed behavioral health provider to offer support and care management services. Their titles vary by state.