9 Types of Therapists and Mental Health Providers

How to evaluate credentials for treating borderline personality disorder

Men talking with therapist in group therapy. Credit: Tom M Johnson

When you are searching for a therapist or other mental health provider, it can be easy to get confused by the many options and different mental health credentials. If you or a loved one have a mental illness like borderline personality disorder, having the right kind of help is essential. General counselors or coaches will likely be unable to give you the help you need due to lack of medical knowledge; you will probably need someone with specialized training.

Here are nine of the most common types of counseling professionals and a brief description of their mental health credentials. Keep these options in mind when evaluating who to contact: 


"Psychotherapist" is a general and unregulated term referring to a person who provides psychotherapy. Anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist, so be sure to ask about training and experience related to borderline personality disorder if a potential therapist is using this title.


A psychologist is any person with a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology; most states also require them to be licensed. Not all psychologists, however, have been trained to provide treatment. Only clinical and counseling psychologists have the necessary training to provide mental health treatments. They will have extensive experience conducting psychological assessments and providing psychotherapy.

In most states, psychologists cannot prescribe medications for you, so if you are looking for a prescription to help manage borderline personality disorder, they will have to give you a referral to another mental health professional. However, in Louisiana, New Mexico and Illinois, psychologists are allowed to prescribe medications.

School Psychologist

School psychologists have different training backgrounds and mental health credentials than other psychologists. They do not need to have a doctoral degree but they are required to have a master's degree and must be licensed or certified to provide services by the state.

School psychologists provide a range of services, including consulting with parents, teachers and the school system about mental health and behavioral issues. They can provide psychological counseling, develop school-wide programs related to mental health and can assess academic skills.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) specializing in the treatment of mental health disorders. A psychiatrist has a state license to practice medicine, can conduct assessments and can provide both pharmaceutical and psychotherapy treatments for psychological disorders.

Due to high demand for their services, many psychiatrists now focus on medication management and provide referrals for psychotherapy or other mental health services.

Some psychiatrists do still offer psychotherapy, so be sure to consult with your doctor about her process. 

Mental Health Counselor

A mental health counselor generally has a master's degree in counseling or counseling psychology as well as hours of training experience for mental health issues. Some also have a doctoral degree in counseling.They are required to obtain a license from the state and can conduct assessments and provide psychotherapy. 

Marriage and Family Therapist

A marriage and family therapist is an individual with a master's or doctoral degree in marital and family therapy. They must also complete at least two years of supervised clinical training. Many states require marriage and family therapists to obtain a license to practice. They therapists can provide assessments and psychotherapy for psychological issues but focus on these problems as they relate to marital and familial relationships.

Social Worker

Many types of social workers are out there and not all are trained to provide mental health treatments. A social worker may have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or a doctoral degree.

Social workers who provide mental health services must take the additional step of becoming licensed by the state; in this case, they will have the letters L.C.S.W. or L.I.C.S.W. associated with their titles. Licensed clinical social workers can provide a range of services, including assessment, psychotherapy and case management, but cannot prescribe medications.

Psychiatric Nurse

The title "psychiatric nurse" can include nurses from a variety of training backgrounds and levels of experience. They may have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or a doctorate. Psychiatric nurses may provide nursing care in mental health treatment settings. With special training, they may also provide psychotherapy and prescribe medications.

Pastoral Counselor

Pastoral counselors have training in both theology and psychology and use an integration of the two in their approach to treating mental health problems. Pastoral counselors may have a bachelor's degree from a 4-year college or university, a professional degree from a seminary, a master's degree or doctoral degree. Pastoral counselors are certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and can provide psychotherapy.

By knowing the various options available to you, you will be better equipped to make an informed decision when evaluating mental health credentials and choosing a therapist. 


Mandersheid, RW, & Henderson, MJ, (Eds.) Mental Health, United States. DHHS Pub. (SMA) 3938. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2004.

APA Practice Central. "About prescribing psychologists". 2014.  

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