[Image description: A woman has a therapy visit on a tablet.]
When you’re taking your first steps toward seeking mental health care, it can help to know the differences between the types of treatment — and which mental health professionals can provide them. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide what’s best for you.
In therapy (also called psychotherapy), you and your therapist explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, identify patterns or triggers, and work on strategies to help you cope better. While it’s often referred to as “talk therapy,” it’s more than just a series of conversations. Your therapist will ask about your symptoms, history, and goals for treatment, then develop an assessment and treatment plan for you. Depending on the nature of your concerns, your therapist may recommend a specific approach or technique, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to help you reach your goals. You may also have between-session assignments to help you practice skills or learn ways to replace unhealthy thoughts or behaviors.
Different types of mental health professionals can provide therapy, including psychologists, social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional clinical counselors. Each of these professions has different education and training requirements. In addition, therapists may specialize in working with specific age groups or treating certain issues, such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression, or relationships.
You can access therapy in person or with telehealth. Licensed therapists on Amwell are available for 45-minute telehealth appointments with flexible scheduling, including evenings and weekends.
Psychiatry is also the practice of diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral concerns — but it’s rooted in a medical background. A psychiatrist obtains a medical degree — either an MD (medical doctor) or DO (doctor of osteopathy) — before receiving specialized training in mental health conditions. As a result, psychiatrists are versed in the biological, physical, and genetic aspects of mental illness.
With their medical training and credentials, psychiatrists can prescribe medications to treat mental health conditions. (This is an important difference: In most U.S. states, other types of mental health professionals aren’t permitted to prescribe medications.) If your psychiatrist prescribes medication, they will also meet with you on an ongoing basis to monitor whether or not the medication is helping and to look for any potential side effects.
You can visit with a psychiatrist in person or with telehealth. Psychiatrists on Amwell are available for initial evaluations, follow-up care, and medication management.
While psychiatrists on Amwell can prescribe most medications, they cannot prescribe controlled substances online. If you need a medication that is a controlled substance, you’ll need to be seen in person.
Which type of care should you seek?
If you’re not sure what type of treatment would be best for you, it may help to describe your symptoms and concerns to your primary care doctor. They may be able to suggest what type of mental health provider to see.
Either a therapist or psychiatrist can also evaluate you to determine whether you need talk therapy or medication — or both — and make recommendations based on that assessment so don‘t hesitate to start an initial conversation. If your treatment involves both types of care, you may see a psychiatrist for medication and a therapist for talk therapy.