Taking Depression Seriously: Choosing a Mental Health Care Provider


Finding the right health care provider can be essential in treating depression. Different types of practitioners are allowed to provide different forms of support depending on their training and experience. Although there are variations between states, requirements such as level of education are generally consistent nationally.

Here’s a look at the most common types of mental health providers and what they can each offer.


A psychiatrist is a doctor (with a doctorate in medicine or a DO diploma) specializing in mental health. Psychiatrists typically focus on understanding and treating depression from a biological perspective and often specialize more in different areas of mental health, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatrics. , depression or drug addiction. Psychiatrists can diagnose and treat mental health problems. Some offer talk therapy while most prescribe medication.


A psychologist usually has a doctorate (usually a doctorate) and is trained in psychology, the science of the mind. Psychologists deal primarily with thoughts, emotions and behaviors and strive to help patients overcome mental barriers associated with their depression.

Psychologists can diagnose and treat mental health disorders and provide counseling. Many have training in specific types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or other interventions. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, but often work with other providers who can.

Social worker

Clinical social workers are trained to assess a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on their specific training. A licensed clinical social worker must have at least a master’s degree (MSW) in social work. They often help people meet their basic needs, including food, shelter, health care and social support, and they are qualified to help people who are unable to meet these basic needs. base by themselves.

Advice from social workers about depression often focuses on problem-solving. Depending on the level of training, social workers can provide assessment, diagnosis, therapy and a range of other services, but cannot prescribe medication.

Certified Professional Advisor

Licensed professional counselors can operate under many different titles depending on the state, including LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), and Licensed Clinical Advisor in Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Most are required to have at least a master’s degree and clinical experience. These providers advise clients on a range of issues, but they are not authorized to prescribe drugs.

Other health providers

Other health care professionals may also provide some services. Primary care physicians can diagnose and prescribe medications and can be especially important for people with both mental and physical health issues. They can also provide referrals to more specialized mental health professionals. Psychiatric / mental health physician assistants and nurse practitioners can also diagnose and prescribe medications.

Online Suppliers

The internet has created new mental health treatment options, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) online. More accessible and less expensive than in-person treatment, online CBT can be automated or involve a human provider remotely. Online CBT programs often offer educational modules and tools to help track mood and behavior. They can provide structured homework similar to those given in a traditional CBT setting. Despite their promise, however, the effectiveness of online CBT programs has not been well studied.

When it comes to depression or other mental health issues, a first step is to find the type of provider that matches your needs. A provider’s ability to prescribe drugs and skill in specific types of counseling or therapy are key criteria. Other important considerations include the supplier’s experience, their areas of specialization, their price range and insurance coverage, and how you get along with them. Some providers may offer a short introductory phone call that can help you decide if they are right for you.

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts, Take depression seriously, which aims to help patients and their families better understand depression as a chronic disease and better navigate the healthcare system. The next blog will discuss health behavior changes that can improve symptoms of depression.

Sophia Xiao is a Masters student in Community Health Research and Prevention at Stanford University. She studies barriers to health care and the role of public health education in improving access to care. Stanford professor and primary care physician Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, studies strategies to improve the treatment of chronic disease, including increasing the role of patients in their health care.

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