There are many different professionals who work with a diverse set of patients or clients dealing with mental health issues. Some of the most common mental health practitioners are Psychiatrists (M.D. who diagnose and treat mental illnesses), Psychologists (Ph.D. who treat mental and emotional problems), Mental Health/Marriage and Family Therapists (LPC or LMFT who treat mental and emotional disorders that revolve around life experiences and changes), and Social Workers (MSW who asses client needs and help make plans/referrals for support when faced with crisis situations).
Mental health professionals can work with general or specific populations, as well as with people across the lifespan and who experience different types of distress. Mental health professionals can assist with diagnosis, and a variety of treatments or referrals relating to a wide range of personal/family stressors as well as emotional and behavioral issues. Each specific profession may be grounded in different theories and there may be limits to diagnoses and treatments based on degree, training and state licensing regulations.
Mental Health Practitioners typically do the following:
- Collect information about client’s life and experiences.
- Diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
- Encourage clients to discuss explore emotions and experiences, and better understand their own emotions, behaviors and relationships.
- Help patients’ process life occurrences and changes.
- Help patients develop coping/behavioral strategies.
- Coordinate and refer clients to other health professionals and resources.
Learn more about Mental Health:
- Explore Health Careers: Mental Health
- Occupational Outlook Handbook
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- American Counseling Association
- National Association of Social Workers
Degree Required: The degree required will vary based on the specific profession. Clinical Psychologists will be required to obtain a Psy.D. or PhD, while mental health counselors will need to obtain at least a master's degree. While there is a bachelor's degree in Social Work, most positions require a master's.
Admissions Exam: Students applying to Psy.D., Ph.D. or master’s level programs will most likely take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Check with specific schools about admission exam requirements.
Application Service: PSYCAS (Psychology) and SocialWorkCAS (Social Work). Not all programs participate in PSYCAS or SocialWorkCAS. Check the CSWE Directory of Accredited Programs to determine which Social Work programs utilize the centralized application and the APA to determine which Psychology programs utilize the centralized application. There is no centralized application service for counseling programs.
Application timeline: Each school may have unique entry dates. Refer to the school’s application timeline to apply for the appropriate cycle. Most students will apply in the Fall of the year preceding planned matriculation.
Letters of Recommendation: Each school will have different requirements, but students should be prepared with a minimum of two letters of recommendation.
Interviews: Most psychology, mental health, and social work programs require an interview as part of the application process.