Types of Mental Health Providers and Services
There are many types of mental health providers and services available to students who wish to engage in mental health care.
Please note that, for many insurance companies and providers, the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘behavioral health’ are often used interchangeably, as are ‘counselor’, ‘therapist’, and ‘clinician’. Some outpatient mental health services may be referred to, interchangeably, as ‘therapy’ or ‘counseling’.
There are different types of mental/behavioral health providers. Those most commonly used by students include the following (information from NAMI):
Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, or another specialty (such as counseling or education). They evaluate an individual’s mental health using clinical interviews and psychological evaluations, and may use testing. They can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.
Degree requirements: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in a field of psychology or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).
Licensure & credentials: Psychologists are licensed by licensure boards in each state.
Clinical Social Workers
Clinical social workers are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs. They are also trained in case management and advocacy services.
Degree requirements: Master’s degree in social work (MSW).
Licensure & credentials: Varies by state. Examples of licensure include:
- LICSW, Licensed Independent Social Worker
- LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- ACSW, Academy of Certified Social Workers
Counselors, Clinicians, Therapists
These masters-level professionals are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs. They operate under a variety of job titles—including counselor, clinician, therapist or something else—based on the treatment setting.
Degree requirements: Master’s degree (M.S. or MA) in a mental health-related field such as psychology, counseling psychology, or marriage or family therapy.
Licensure & Certification: Varies by specialty and state. Examples of licensure include:
- LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor
- LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
- LCADAC, Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who have completed psychiatric training. They can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe and monitor medications, and provide therapy.
Degree requirements: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), plus completion of residency training in psychiatry.
Licensure & credentials: Licensed physician in the state where they are practicing; may also be designated as a Board Certified Psychiatrist by the Board of Neurology and Psychiatry.
Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners can provide assessment, diagnosis and therapy for mental health conditions or substance use disorders. In some states, they are also qualified to prescribe and monitor medications. Requirements also vary by state as to the degree of supervision necessary by a licensed psychiatrist.
Degree requirements: Master of Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in nursing with specialized focus on psychiatry.
Licensure & credentials: Licensed nurse in the state where they are practicing. Examples of credentials include, but are not limited to:
- NCLEX, National Council Licensure Examination
- PMHNP-BC, Board Certification in psychiatric nursing through the American Academic of Nurses Credentialing Center
Mental Health Services
Mental health services are often offered on an outpatient basis, meaning that individuals reside in their own homes, but go to a facility or office regularly for treatment. Some programs are intensive and require daily participation while others are less frequent.
Outpatient treatment is usually best suited for those with:
- Mild to moderate symptoms.
- A solid support system.
- The ability to function outside of the treatment environment.
Specific services offered on an outpatient basis can include:
Typically, individual therapy appointments occur on a weekly basis, with appointments lasting 45-60 minutes. Group therapy often takes place for 1-2 hours weekly.
Frequency and duration of services may vary based on individual treatment needs and type of therapy being provided. Services may be provided in agency or group based practices (more than one provider offering services) or in a private practice (one practitioner working individually).
There are a wide variety of different types of therapy (referred to as treatment modalities) that may be offered based on therapist training/experience and client needs. Providers may specialize in one or more types of therapy or specialty areas (such as trauma, substance abuse, eating disorders, etc.).
Types of therapy that have been used most commonly by students include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Relational Therapy, Motivational Interviewing (MI), and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Some therapy/counseling providers accept insurance to help individuals pay for the cost of their services, while others do not. For therapists who only accept private pay (no insurance), the cost of services can be $150+ per hour. Some providers may offer sliding-scale services—where the cost of services is discounted for private pay clients; the scale offered is usually based on client income.
- Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
An IOP is a part-time yet strict treatment program designed to accommodate work and daily life with treatment.
A typical IOP program offers facilitated treatment (individual and group therapy) a few days a week, for a few hours on those days. For example, a program may take place three days a week, for three hours each day.
IOP allows the individual to be able to participate in their daily affairs, such as work, and then participate in treatment at an appropriate facility in the morning or at the end of the day.
Common treatment issues addressed in IOP level of care include (but are not limited to) substance abuse and eating disorders.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)
PHPS provide the most intensive level of non-residential, non-inpatient care that is available. PHPs are time-limited, medically supervised programs that offer comprehensive, therapeutically intensive, coordinated, and structured clinical services. Partial hospitalization programs are available at least five days per week but may also offer half-day, weekend, or evening hours.
PHP level services may be used to support an individual leaving inpatient or residential care.
Medications can be used to treat the symptoms of mental illness. Medications are often used in combination with psychotherapy and are offered in both inpatient and outpatient mental health settings.
Medications commonly used for mental health treatment include:
Antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression, but in some cases they may also be prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. Common types of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Anti-anxiety medications can help people who suffer from generalized anxiety, social anxiety, or panic attacks. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed short-acting anti-anxiety medications. However, these drugs are only meant to be used in the short-term, and long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction. For this reason, there are other non-habit forming anti-anxiety medications that may be prescribed in place of benzodiazepines.
Mood stabilizers are commonly prescribed for people with Bipolar Disorder and related mood disorders to stabilize mood and prevent significant mood swings, mania, and depression.
Antipsychotics are typically prescribed to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, and may sometimes be prescribed to individuals with bipolar disorder who are exhibiting psychotic symptoms (often during a manic episode).
Psychiatric hospitalization treatment typically consists of stabilization, close monitoring, medication, administration of fluids and nutrition, and other necessary emergency care.
Individuals may be voluntarily or involuntarily hospitalized (often referred to as a ‘5150’). A person may be involuntarily hospitalized when they either are gravely disabled or are a danger to themselves or others.
Inpatient hospitalizations generally last 3-7 days, based on medical need.
Inpatient treatment, which may also referred to as residential treatment, takes place in a residential facility on a 24/7 basis. This level of care is best suited for those who need constant medical supervision as well as those with relatively severe, long-term symptoms who have not shown significant progress after outpatient mental health intervention.
Generally, residential treatment programs last one month or longer.
12 Step Programs and Support Groups
Support groups and 12-step programs may be good complementary therapies for people who are undergoing psychotherapy and/or taking medication, or for those who may have completed clinical services but would benefit from ongoing support.
These groups are available for people dealing with a wide range of mental or behavioral health and substance abuse problems, including:
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- Gambling, shopping, video gaming, and other behavioral addictions.
- Anxiety and depression
- Eating disorders
Twelve-step programs use an approach built on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Participants often work with a sponsor to complete the 12 steps, and the sponsor is available to help the person with other issues they may be struggling with during recovery, including cravings.
Many programs have a spiritual component, but they do not require participants to be religious. Participants choose a “higher power” that they can use to help guide them through the recovery process. This higher power can be whatever the participant wants: God, music, or nature.
Though support groups and 12-step programs are free and beneficial, it is important to be aware that they do not provide medical supervision or offer professional therapy.
Tele-therapy, Tele-mental Health
Tele-therapy is a rapidly growing and trending treatment option among mental health providers (both therapy and psychiatry) nationwide.
Tele-therapy is defined as any type of communication with a client via a third party platform where advice is given virtually without being in person or face-to-face. Communication platforms may include phone, Skype, Facetime, Google hangouts, Zoom, text, or email.
Traveling to an office for therapy is often not convenient and, for some people, it is not possible. For students who wish to remain engaged with a previous treatment provider from home once they arrive at L&C, Tele-therapy can be a useful option.
In addition, if a student is seeking specialized therapy not available locally, tele-therapy may provide treatment options for them.