Most of us are aware of the increase in mental illness in recent years, but for many, awareness is limited unless they or someone they love is directly affected by mental illness. As a reminder: 

  • About 20% (more than 46 million) of US adults belong to the Any Mental Illness (AMI) category, which includes people who suffer from any mild to severe mental health condition. Approximately 25% of those also belong to the Serious Mental Illness (SMI) subcategory. 
  • Almost 50% of US adolescents belong to the AMI category and 22% of those also belong to the SMI subcategory. 
  • Mental illness is linked to substance abuse in about 20% of cases. 
  • The average delay between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), – during which a condition typically progressively worsens and likelihood of positive treatment outcome decreases.
  • There was an 86% increase in the rate of death by suicide in children/adolescents ages 10-19 between 2007 to 2017
  • According to the CDC, the proportion of child and adolescent mental health-related visits to emergency departments increased and has remained elevated since April 2020. Compared to 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits for children 5-11 and adolescents 12-17 increased about 24% and 31%, respectively.

The need for optimized, widespread mental health care is abundantly clear. As the former “nation’s doctor” 19th Surgeon General Vivek Murthy suggested, the recent rise of mental illness in the United States has been of epidemic proportion, and as we round what feels like the final corner of COVID-19, it’s especially imperative that mental health be one of the nation’s top public health priorities. One of the most important components of tending to the present rise in mental illness and staying ahead of the future nationwide mental health crisis we face is increasing the number of mental health care providers available to the public. The average person is familiar with resources like psychologists and psychiatrists, but are unaware of equally helpful mental health care professionals such as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, licensed counselors, and clinical social workers – just to name a few. In this blog we’ll discuss the types of therapists, what makes psychiatrists unique, which type of provider could be best for you.  


What are therapists?

The term “therapist” is often broadly used to describe all types of mental health care professionals ranging from counselors to psychiatrists. Though, professionally, the term “therapist” is typically reserved for all mental health care providers that deploy treatment through talking to patients and having the patient share their experiences, thoughts and emotions to gain further insight into themselves. Some of the most commonly known professionals that are referred to as therapists are psychologists, licensed counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and clinical social workers. In general, therapists do not prescribe medication.

Somewhat confusingly, while some psychiatrists only prescribe medication using their license as a medical doctor, many psychiatrists also are considered to be therapists, as they use talk therapy with a patient as part of the patient’s treatment.



Psychologists are individuals who have spent an average of seven years earning a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) in clinical psychology or another specialty, such as counseling or education. They are trained to diagnose psychiatric conditions and provide a variety of evidence-based forms of psychotherapy, such as Psychodynamic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). For those patients who may benefit from the simultaneous use of psychotherapy and medication, psychologists work with primary care physicians and psychiatrists on developing the best treatment plan for each individual patient. In some states, psychologists may also complete additional specialized training to prescribe certain medications that are known to improve mental health concerns. 


Licensed Counselors and Therapists

These mental health care providers have earned a master’s degree (M.S. or M.A.) in a mental health-related field, such as psychology, counseling, or marriage or family therapy. These professionals are trained to evaluate an individual’s mental health, but do not typically diagnose psychiatric conditions. They deliver therapeutic techniques based on their specific training to help patients cope with and work through day-to-day emotional and behavioral concerns. Examples of professionals who belong to this category are Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LCADAC).  


Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers are most similar to licensed counselors and therapists in that they have earned a master’s degree, but specifically in social work (MSW). Depending on their specialized training, clinical social workers may provide individual, marital, family, and group therapy. Like licensed counselors and therapists, clinical social workers do not generally diagnose psychiatric conditions, but they are trained in evaluating a person’s mental health and providing therapeutic techniques based on their specialized background. Examples of professionals in this category of therapists include Licensed Independent Social Worker (LICSW), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and Associate Clinical Social Worker (ACSW).  


Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs)

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) then a master’s or PhD in nursing with a specialty in psychiatric mental health care. Although they are not medical doctors, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners share many of the same responsibilities as psychiatrists. PMHNPs can clinically assess, diagnose, and treat the mental health concerns of their patients. They can administer physical and psychosocial assessments and treatment effectiveness evaluations, as well as conduct psychotherapy and prescribe medications. 


What are psychiatrists? 

Psychiatrists earn a medical degree, MD or DO, from an allopathic medical school or osteopathic medical school, respectively. Their primary roles are to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with psychiatric concerns. While they are qualified to conduct psychotherapy, psychiatrists tend to focus more on psychopharmaceutical treatment and other medical treatments more than psychologists and other therapists do.

As previously noted, the responsibilities of psychiatrists and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are extremely similar. This, along with the fact that psychiatrists are ” therapists” in the informal sense that they are specialists that provide a form of therapy, is likely the reason the term therapist is used as a blanket term by the general public to describe all types of mental health care providers, including psychiatrists. However, as it was also previously noted, psychiatrists are typically not regarded as therapists in professional settings as they are the only type of mental health care provider that earned a degree in medicine. 

  • The Remedy team also includes two board certified supervising psychiatrists, who are separately qualified to treat child, adolescent, and adult populations. Meet Dr. Kirsten Thompson (our founder) and Dr. Scott Hunter!


Should I See a Therapist or a Psychiatrist?

If you’re interested in talk therapy (or ‘psychotherapy’), you can elect to begin treatment first with a therapist.

If you’re interested in medication, you would want to see a trained mental health professional that has the licensing to prescribe medication, such as a psychiatrist or a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. If you do not currently have access to a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner or if you are unsure of which type of mental health care provider is best for you, it may be beneficial to consult with your primary care physician to discuss your options.  

Ultimately, you cannot go wrong in choosing to proceed with a therapist or psychiatrist in tending to your mental health. Despite differences in their approach, all mental health care providers share the same goal: To recognize, treat, and prevent mental illness so people can lead happier, healthier lives. So regardless of which type of mental health care provider you choose, they will always seek to devise the best treatment plan for you – even if that means introducing you to another type of provider. 

Addressing the increasing mental health concerns across the nation is an all hands on deck situation. Fortunately, there is a consortium of equally necessary, knowledgeable, and helpful mental health care providers that are dedicated to helping people lead happier, healthier lives!

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AANP Staff. (December 13, 2019). Are You Considering a Career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner? American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 
NAMI Staff. (April 2020). Types of Mental Health Professionals. National Alliance on Mental Illness. 
NAMI Staff. (n.d.). Mental Health Care Matters. National Alliance on Mental Illness. 
Wilkes University Staff. (July 2, 2020). What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do? Wilkes University.
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