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Health Care Providers: Behavioral Health Specialists

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What Is Behavioral Health?

Behavioral health is medical care that helps manage emotions and behavior. The main health care providers who work in behavioral health are psychologists and psychiatrists.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist (sye-kye-A-trist) is a doctor who studies and treats diseases and conditions that affect emotions and behavior. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicine.

What Is a Psychologist?

A psychologist (sye-KOL-uh-jist) specializes in treatment of diseases and conditions that affect emotions and behavior. In most U.S. states, they cannot prescribe medicines.

Note: Counselors and therapists also work to support emotional health and behavior. A counselor usually works with someone on a particular problem (for example, anxiety) and may only see the person for a few sessions. A therapist may go into more depth on a condition and see someone for a longer time. There is a lot of overlap between what psychologists, counselors, and therapists do. However, their training is different, their treatment approaches may differ, and counselors and therapists can’t prescribe medicine.

Why Would Someone Need One?

Behavioral health professionals diagnose and treat many different emotional or behavioral issues, including: 

They also can help kids and teens deal with long-term medical conditions or difficult life situations.

Treatment options can include:

  • individual therapy
  • family therapy
  • prescription and management of medicines

What Is Their Training?

Psychiatrists have medical training that usually includes:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education at a college or university
  • 4 years of medical school — a medical degree (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree
  • 4 years of training in general psychiatry in a residency

They may also do a fellowship in a subspecialty such as child and adolescent psychiatry. A “fellow” is a doctor who undergoes more specialty training after completing medical school and a residency.

Psychologists have training that includes:

  • 4 years of undergraduate education at a college or university
  • a more advanced degree, which might be a master’s degree, PhD (doctor of philosophy), or PsyD (doctor of psychology)

Counselors and therapists have training that includes:

  • 4 years of undergraduate education at a college or university
  • a master’s degree

Good to Know

Behavioral care teams also might include social workers, psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners, family counselors, and others.

Date reviewed: September 2022