What You'll Discover

  • There are many types of mental health professionals
  • Some focus on providing therapy while others prescribe medication.
  • Learn about the different kinds of providers your child may see.

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. Look for someone who is licensed to practice in your state. We’ve included some common credentials that often come after the names of professionals, but this also varies from state to state.

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. We have ideas to help you find a mental health provider.

Therapy Providers

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists are licensed clinicians with doctoral degrees (PhD, PsyD). They study the brain, emotions, and behaviors. Psychologists test (evaluate), assess and treat for mental health conditions. They do not prescribe medicine.

Clinical Social Worker

Social workers are licensed clinicians with master's degrees (LSW, LISW, LIWS-S, LCSW) that use their knowledge of human behavior and systems (family, communities, societal groups) to help children, families and groups. They can also diagnose and treat many mental and emotional disorders. 

Clinical Counselor

Clinical Counselors are licensed clinicians with master’s degrees (CMHC, LPC, LPCC, LMHC, LCPC, NCC, or others depending on the state they are licensed) that diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, helping people with personal, social, educational or career growth and adjustment.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists (LMFT, MFT, LCMFT) are trained in both psychotherapy and family systems. They treat individuals, couples and families. They look at how behavior affects family members and relationships with each other.

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist 

An Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist or Board Certified Behavioral Analyst studies a child’s behavior to figure out ways to help them. ABA therapy is usually used for children with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. ABA therapists have different backgrounds and training and may be called many different things depending on their education and certification (RBT, BCaBA, BCBA/BCBA-D).

Medical Assessment and Treatment

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors (MD or DO). They assess, diagnose and treat mental health disorders and have extensive training in the biological, psychological and social factors impacting mental health. Their training means they can prescribe medicine as part of treatment, and they also have training in various types of therapy which may be incorporated into their assessments and treatment.

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatricians are licensed physicians (MD or DO) who specialize in assessing and treating children and adolescents with developmental or behavioral concerns. Their training means they can prescribe medicine as part of treatment.

Advanced Practice Providers

Advanced Practice Providers in Behavioral Health are Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants (PMHNP, APRN, PA) who have experience in Psychiatry. They educate, assess, diagnose and manage medication for children and adolescents with behavioral, developmental, and mental health challenges.

Pediatrician / Family physician

Your child’s doctor may be a great place to start if you have a mental health concern. Pediatricians and family physicians manage your child's health from birth to adulthood and will know your child well. They may choose to prescribe and monitor your child’s medication and treatment for certain mental health concerns, or they may refer you to a mental health professional.

Mental Health Support

School Counselor

School counselors help students with personal, social, academic and career development. They may provide one-on-one counseling, small group counseling and classroom teaching. School counselors do not diagnose or provide ongoing mental health therapy.

Pastoral Counselor

Pastoral Counselors are trained in theology (religious studies) and may have training in therapy interventions. Some may hold a license in pastoral counseling (CCPT, CpastC, NCPC, etc), but can only practice as clinicians if also licensed as mental health therapists (e.g., LMFT, LCPC). They work with individuals, couples and families to incorporate religious and spiritual preferences into their therapeutic work.

Certified Peer Specialist

These individuals receive a certification (CPSS, NCPS, or others depending on the state) to help those with mental health conditions or substance misuse. They provide support, mentoring and guidance but are not mental health therapists.

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.