When it comes to mental health, we often feel like we are on our own. We don’t know who to talk to, where to go for help or what to do when things start going wrong. This can be overwhelming because our mental status is just as essential as physical health, which is critical to overall health and well-being.
According to the World Health Organization, “mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to her or his community.” That’s why accessing quality mental health care through mental health professionals is vital.
In this article, we will discuss who a mental health specialist is. The guide will also explain the different types of mental health specialists and the duties they are typically responsible for.
What Is Mental Health?
Before we get into who a mental health specialist is, it is crucial to understand the concept of mental health. Building on the brief definition above, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines mental health as a state of mental conditions that enable people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work productively. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
A person’s mental health needs to be in good shape to cope with everyday life’s demands. The ability to manage day-to-day tasks, relationships, work, and other activities start to deteriorate when our mental health is not well.
Who Is A Mental Health Specialist?
A mental health specialist is a professional who specializes in diagnosing, managing, and preventing mental health conditions. These mental health specialists have undergone extensive training to have a strong understanding of mental health conditions and treat mental health disorders.
Mental health specialists work with patients dealing with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and eating disorders. However, their scope of practice may extend to other areas, such as relationship counseling, stress management, and coping with loss or grief.
Most mental health specialists can work in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, private practices, community mental health centers, crisis intervention services, schools, prisons, and workplaces. Also, mental health specialist often works closely with other healthcare professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors to provide comprehensive care for their patients.
What Does A Mental Health Specialist Do?
Mental health specialists typically have various roles and responsibilities in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health conditions. These may include:
A Mental health specialist often conducts assessments to determine a patient’s mental health status. These assessments usually involve interviews, physical examinations, and psychological testing. The goal of the assessment is to gather enough information to make an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan. Conducting assessments also help many mental health specialists track a patient’s progress in treatment.
Making A Diagnosis
After an assessment, a mental health specialist will make a diagnosis. In most cases, a diagnosis is made based on the information gathered from the assessment and the patient’s symptoms. It’s vital to note that making an accurate diagnosis is essential for developing an effective treatment plan.
Creating Treatment Plan
Once a diagnosis has been made, a mental health specialist will work with the patient to develop an individualized treatment plan. The treatment plan typically includes the goals of treatment, the type of therapy to be used, and the frequency of sessions. The treatment plan must be tailored to meet the patient’s specific needs.
Mental health specialists typically provide therapy to their patients. The type of therapy offered will depend on the diagnosis and treatment goals. Some of the most common types of therapy used by mental health specialists include cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and interpersonal therapy.
Mental health specialists closely monitor the patient’s progress in treatment. They may adjust the treatment plan as needed to ensure that the patient is progressing toward their goals. Also, monitoring progress helps many mental health specialists identify any potential setbacks in treatment.
It is also within the purview of a mental health specialist to provide counseling to their patients. Counseling usually involves providing support and guidance to patients who are dealing with difficult life situations. Mental health specialists who provide counseling services typically have a strong understanding of human behavior and development.
Mental health specialists often coordinate care with other professionals, especially in healthcare facilities. This coordination of care helps to ensure that patients receive comprehensive care. It also helps to avoid any duplication of services.
These are a few of the most common duties and responsibilities of mental health specialists. However, their roles and responsibilities may vary depending on their specific practice area.
Types Of Mental Health Specialists
There are different types of mental health professionals who work in the mental health field. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some of the most common types of mental health specialists include:
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. They can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe or monitor medications, and provide therapy for mental health patients. These types of mental health professionals have completed additional training in child and adolescent mental health, substance use disorders, or geriatric psychiatry.
A psychologist is a certified mental health professional who has earned a doctoral degree in psychology. They can provide therapy, conduct psychological testing, and offer guidance and support to patients. These mental health specialists specialize in the science of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.
They are trained to evaluate a patient’s mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations, and testing. Psychologists can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy. Many psychologists specialize in specific forms of treatment like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and other behavioral therapy interventions.
Psychologists also work in places like private offices, hospitals, or schools, and they treat various issues, from relationship problems to mental illnesses, through counseling. However, a psychologist cannot prescribe medication but may work closely with a psychiatrist who can.
Psychiatric nurses are licensed registered nurses who have completed additional training in mental health. They provide nursing care to patients with mental illness and can also offer therapy and support. Psychiatric nurses also perform psychological therapy and administer psychiatric medication.
They mostly handle challenging behavior related to mental health conditions and operate under the supervision of a medical doctor. Psychiatric nurses may work in healthcare facilities, clinics, or private practices.
Social workers are mental health professionals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. They can provide therapy, support, guidance, and practical assistance to patients who are dealing with mental health issues. Social workers advocate for their patients and work to connect them with community resources. They may also address social problems like substance abuse, housing, and unemployment.
Social workers are often involved in family disputes that involve domestic violence or child abuse. Social workers may specialize in specific areas like addiction, geriatrics, or mental health. They often work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices.
Psychotherapy is a type of talking therapy that is used to treat mental health conditions. Psychotherapists help patients by providing support, guidance, and practical tools to deal with their mental health issues. They may also use different types of therapies like CBT or DBT. Psychotherapists usually have a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology, social work, or counseling.
Other Mental Health Professionals
There are many other types of mental health professionals who can provide support and treatment for mental health conditions:
Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselor is a broad term used to describe someone who provides counseling services to people with mental health issues. Mental health counselors can provide therapy, support, and guidance to patients. They include addiction counselors, marriage and family counselors, and bereavement counselors.
Art therapists offer a unique type of therapy. This approach entails exploring and assisting with depression, physical conditions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and addiction by using creativity in ways like writing, sculpting, and painting. This type of mental health specialist job focuses on helping patients express underlying thoughts and feelings that traditional talking therapy may not expose.
Psychoanalysts provide a type of therapy that focuses on understanding the conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings that may be causing a mental health issue. They help patients understand how their past experiences are affecting their present. This type of mental health therapy is usually long-term and can be expensive.
Family And Marriage Therapists
A marriage and family therapist (MFT) is a type of mental health counselor who provides therapy to couples and families. MFTs help families resolve conflicts and improve communication. They often work with families who are dealing with divorce, domestic violence, or substance abuse.
Mental health specialists play an essential role in our daily lives. They provide support, guidance, and practical tools to help us deal with mental health issues. Mental health professionals have also contributed immensely to the growth of the healthcare industry. They provide vital services to patients who are dealing with mental health conditions.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition, consider seeking help from a mental health specialist.