Merck Manual

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Types of Mental Health Care Practitioners

Types of Mental Health Care Practitioners





Medical doctor with 4 or more years of medical and psychiatric training after graduation from medical school

Can prescribe drugs, administer electroconvulsive therapy, and admit people to the hospital

May only practice psychotherapy, only prescribe drugs, or do both


Practitioner who has a master’s or doctoral degree but not a medical degree

Often have postdoctoral training and usually have been trained to administer psychologic tests that are helpful in diagnosis

May practice psychotherapy but cannot do physical examinations, prescribe drugs (in most states), or admit people to the hospital

Psychiatric social worker

A practitioner with specialized training in certain aspects of psychotherapy, such as family and marital therapy or individual psychotherapy

Often trained to interface with the social service systems in the state

May have a master's degree and sometimes a doctorate as well

Cannot do physical examinations or prescribe drugs

Advanced practice psychiatric nurse

Registered nurse with a master’s degree or higher and training in behavioral health

May practice psychotherapy independently in some states and may prescribe drugs under the supervision of a doctor


May be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker who has many years of training in the practice of psychoanalysis (a type of intensive psychotherapy involving several sessions a week and designed to explore unconscious patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior)

Practices psychoanalysis and, if also a psychiatrist, may prescribe drugs and admit people to hospitals