Exploring Mental Health Professions

Exploring Mental Health Professions

Nov 03, 2011

A mental health professional is a person who offers services in order to improve an individual’s mental health or to treat mental illness. Although this is the general term for those who provide mental health care, there are several possible career paths one could pursue in this area, some of which are listed below.

People commonly group psychologists and psychiatrists together, however they are significantly different.


Psychiatrists are physicians who are certified to treat mental illness using a biomedical approach, including the use of prescription medicine. In order to become a psychiatrist, one must go through four years of college, four years of medical school to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), and an additional 4-5 years participating in a rigorous program to pass exams and go through residency. After gaining such thorough training, psychiatrists are qualified to treat patients using psychotherapeutic techniques as well as medicine. For more information, please visit the American Psychiatric Association.


Unlike psychiatrists who use a medical approach to treat those with mental illness, psychologists focus less on the medicine and more on analyzing and counseling a person’s thoughts and behavior. There are a couple of different career paths a psychologist can take. One may choose to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which would mainly prepare him or her to conduct and advance research in the field, but would also allow one to treat patients in a therapeutic setting. Another option is to pursue a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree; this degree would mostly prepare someone to conduct therapy, but some training in research is also included. In addition to there being multiple degree options, there are various specializations one can pursue including clinical, school, industrial-organizational, cognitive-behavioral, counseling, social, or developmental psychology. For more information, please visit the American Psychological Association.

By: Vasiliki Anagnostopoulos