Who Can I Talk to About Mental Health Issues?

Many different types of professionals offer talk therapy. Learn more about their training and how to choose a therapist.

If you are struggling with an emotional problem, a mental health professional can help. Psychotherapy offered by a trained and licensed therapist can often successfully treat relationship problems and many mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Many different types of professionals offer psychotherapy (talk therapy). Some of them can also prescribe medication if needed.

A psychiatrist is a medical or osteopathic doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. Like other doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medication. A psychiatrist should have a state medical license and be board-eligible or board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

A psychologist has an advanced degree from an accredited graduate program in psychology and two or more years of supervised work experience. Most states require a doctoral degree and a state license for psychologists. Psychologists can make diagnoses, do psychological testing, and provide therapy.

Clinical social workers
Social workers have a master's degree in social work from an accredited graduate program. They are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy. Their qualifications should include a state license and membership in the Academy of Certified Social Workers.

Licensed professional counselors
A licensed professional counselor has a master's degree in psychology, counseling or a related field. Licensed counselors are trained to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. They are required to have a state license.

Marriage and family therapists
A marriage and family therapist (MFT) has at least a master's degree and two years of supervised clinical experience. They are trained to diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse problems from a family perspective. They can provide individual, couples, family and group therapy.

Certified mental health counselors
These professionals have a master's degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience in mental health. They can diagnose and provide treatment for many emotional and mental health issues. They are certified by the National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors.

Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors
Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors have specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse. They can diagnose substance abuse issues and provide individual and group counseling. They must carry a state license.

Psychiatric nurses
These are registered nurses (RNs) with a master's degree in psychiatric and mental health nursing. They may also be called advanced practice registered nurses, psychiatric nurse practitioners or psychiatric clinical nurse specialists.They can diagnose and treat people with mental health disorders, and in most states they can prescribe medication. They are certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center and must have a state license.

Pastoral counselors
Pastoral counselors are clergy with a degree in mental health and extensive supervised clinical practice. As a result, they approach emotional issues from both a psychological and a spiritual perspective. They are required to have certification from the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.

Choosing a therapist
Picking a therapist is a very personal matter. It's fine to get a name from a friend or family member. But a therapist may work well with someone you know and yet not be a good match for you.

To choose a therapist, first talk with him or her on the phone or in person. Find out about licensing and level of training, approach to psychotherapy, fees and any specialty area. Some therapists focus on one area, such as treating depression, traumatic stress, substance abuse or grief.

If you feel the therapist is a good fit for you, the next step is to make an appointment. But if you are not satisfied after meeting in person, keep looking. The type of training or license a therapist has is not the most important factor. What matters most is how well you connect with the therapist. You should be able to talk openly and feel heard and understood.