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An Introduction to Behavioral Health Professionals

Behavioral health professionals specialize in treating the emotional, behavioral, and biological aspects of a person’s physical and mental well-being. These professionals include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed mental health counselors, and other counselors and clinicians.

Behavioral health issues may include substance use or eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), marital or other relationship problems, and other psychological or physical concerns.

Behavioral Health Issues are Undertreated

Over 50 million U.S. adults live with a behavioral health illness, ranging from mild to severe, according to the 2019 Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health. Unfortunately, only about 65 percent of adults aged 18 and over with a serious mental illness receive treatment each year. Veterans, people of color, LBGTQ individuals and rural residents are among the most frequently undiagnosed and untreated, according to the survey.

If you are seeking treatment for a behavioral health issue, it is important to understand what each professional offers so you can find the most appropriate care for yourself or a loved one. Behavioral health professionals differ in educational background, specializations, treatment approaches, and whether they can prescribe medications. Some professionals focus on community-based interventions as well as psychotherapy.

No matter what treatment you are seeking — medications, talk therapy or another approach, or a combination of approaches — finding the right behavioral health professional for your situation increases your chances for a successful recovery.

Psychiatrist vs. Clinical Psychologist

Both clinical psychologists and psychiatrists receive extensive training focused on mental, behavioral and emotional well-being, as well as how to diagnose mental health disorders. However, they each have different educational requirements, scope of training, and roles in treatment.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed a residency program in psychiatry. They have advanced training in the mental health field and often treat people with mental health conditions that require medications.

Some psychiatrists offer talk therapy, psychosocial interventions, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and other treatments, but most refer patients for counseling services. It is common for patients to see a psychiatrist for medications and to see another behavioral professional for psychotherapy.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists have advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D, and specialize in working with people who have behavioral health issues. In most states, including Florida, psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medications.

Many psychologists specialize in certain areas of behavioral health, like substance use disorders, depression, child mental health or geriatric mental health. They work in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation centers, community organizations, government agencies, and research facilities.

Using interviews and observations, psychologists diagnose, and treat mental health conditions. Psychologists most often use talk therapy to help clients better understand their disorder, recognize and overcome negative thought patterns and other triggers to the behavior, and learn coping skills to manage the condition. Psychologists may conduct therapy sessions individually, in a group setting, or with family members, often incorporating all three.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed clinical social workers are social workers trained in the “assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disturbances,” according to the National Association of Social Workers. They must have a valid license in their respective state to practice.

Licensure requirements include a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, followed by the fulfillment of their state requirements. States typically require extensive post-graduate supervised work experience before taking the National Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) test, which they must pass to become licensed. LCSWs cannot prescribe medications.

Clinical social workers receive training in the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. They often work in rehabilitation facilities, treating those with substance use and mental disorders. There, LCSWs help clients identify and develop their personal strengths and natural skills to manage issues in their lives and address these issues through individual and group talk therapy.

Licensed clinical social workers may specialize in community-based interventions, which can include assisting clients with housing, food stamps, rent assistance, and employment needs, or long-term help for people with chronic disorders. LCSWs may work with child and family services to provide routine family support services and aid in crisis situations.

Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Licensed mental health counselor and licensed professional counselor are separate titles but very similar in terms of education requirements, training, and focus. License requirements include a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral, social science, or psychology program, a Master’s degree in mental health counseling, and postgraduate supervised experience. LMHCs and LPCs cannot prescribe medications.

LMHCs and LPCs may specialize in such areas as addiction, family relations, trauma, stress, youth services, and other disorders. They typically work in collaboration with clients, involving them in the decision-making process regarding goals and what they can do to change their situation. Approaches used by both professionals include individual, group, family, or couples talk therapy.

If you or a loved one have a behavioral health issue such as depression, substance abuse, eating disorder, relationship issues, or another emotional or psychological concern, treatment is available. Reach out to your physician for a referral to the behavioral health professional that can best meet your needs.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine provides free support services for people living with a mental health condition. They will answer your questions and provide resources and referral information. Trained volunteers are available by phone at 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email

Turning Point of Tampa has offered Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.

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