Glossary of Mental Health Providers

There are many types of mental health providers who have relevant training, specialization and skill in assessing and providing mental and behavioral health services to children and adolescents. Use this list to understand the difference between all the providers and help you find the right provider.

Remember that behavioral health services are best provided as close to a patient’s community as possible so that the treatment plan can include important resources from a child’s natural support system and other local supportive services. To find resources in your state, please visit our Resource Guide.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are licensed physicians (MD or DO) who specialize in the evaluation, diagnosis and pharmacology related to treating mental disorders. Their medical and psychiatric training prepares them to prescribe medication, participate in treatment planning and implementation. Children and adolescent psychiatrists are licensed physicians who specialize in the evaluation, diagnosis and pharmacological treatment of children and adolescents specifically.

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician

Developmental-behavioral pediatrics is the specialty within pediatrics that focuses on identification and treatment of disorders of behavior and development throughout childhood and adolescence. They are licensed pediatricians who have had further training in child behavior and development.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioners are registered nurses with advanced education and clinical expertise. They collaborate with physicians to provide consultation including evaluation, diagnosis and medication management for children and adolescents with developmental, behavioral and health problems. Nurse practitioners also provide advice to parents on issues of child rearing, behavior and discipline.

Psychologist

Psychologists are specialists in the study of the structure and function of the brain and related behaviors and mental processes. They may provide psychological evaluation, assessment, testing and treatment. They do not prescribe medicine.

Clinical Social Worker

Social workers apply specialized knowledge of human development and behaviors and social, economic, and cultural systems in directly assisting individuals, families and groups to improve or restore their capacity for social functioning including counseling and the use of psychosocial interventions and social psychotherapy.

Clinical Counselor

Counselors specialize in the application of clinical counseling principles, methods or procedures to assist individuals in achieving more effective personal, social, educational or career development and adjustment, including the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders.

Clinical Chemical Dependency Counselor

Clinical Chemical Dependency Counselors are professionals certified by the state to provide specific assessment and intervention for those using or abusing substances such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and Family Therapists address the behaviors of all family members. They help couples, families and groups dealing with mental health concerns. They look at the way these behaviors affect not only individual family members, but also relationships between family members and the family. Treatment can range from one-on-one therapy to couples therapy, family or both.

School Counselor

School counselors assist students in their personal, social, academic and career development. They may offer individual counseling, small group counseling, and classroom teaching.

Pastoral Counselor

Pastoral counselors are clergy members with training in clinical pastoral education. They are trained to diagnose and provide counseling.

Certified Peer Specialist

These specialists have lived experience with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. They are often trained, certified and prepared to assist with recovery by helping set goals and develop strengths. They provide support, mentoring and guidance.

Pediatrician

Pediatricians are trained, medical practitioners specializing in children and any illnesses they may have, mental or physical. If you are unsure who to go to for help, your pediatrician may be the best place to start because they are familiar with your background.

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist 

An Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist studies the behavior of a child and uses that information to craft interventions. ABA therapy is typically used with children with autism. Positive reinforcement is one of the main techniques used in ABA. As desired behavior is achieved and the child is rewarded, this encourages positive behavior over time that leads to change. ABA therapists have different backgrounds and training.

Other Qualified Behavioral Health Specialists

These specialists (titles vary by state) work under the supervision of a licensed behavioral health provider to offer supportive and care management services.