Mental Health Professionals

Who can help me through my mental health issues?

What do they do? Who’s the best fit for me? Below we take a closer look.

How can mental health professionals help you feel better?

Counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are all different kinds of trained mental health professionals. These professionals will work with you to identify your strengths and the things that cause you distress, and can help you find solutions and make changes. Here are some of the differences between these types of mental health professionals.


Counselors often work in schools, at community health centers, on university or college campuses, and family planning clinics. Some may also work privately, having an office alone or with a group of other professionals. Counselors usually have a master's degree or higher, have completed many supervised training hours, and are licensed by the state they practice in. They are usually called Licensed Professional Counselor, or LPC, although some states have different licensing rules and so counselors may have slightly different initials after their names, like LPCC or LCPC. You can get more information on Counselors from the American Counseling Association.  

Another kind of counselor is a drug and alcohol counselor or a residential treatment counselor. These professionals usually have bachelor's degrees and are not necessarily licensed by the state. State standards for credentialing drug and alcohol counselors vary from state to state.


Therapists, or psychotherapists, often work in private practices, alone or with a group of other professionals. Some work in hospitals, schools, or in community mental health clinics as well. Therapists have a master's degree or higher, have completed many supervised training hours, and are usually licensed as Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). You can find out more from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the National Association of Social Workers.


Psychologists have doctorates in psychology (PhDs or PsyDs), have completed many supervised training hours, and are licensed by the state. Both clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists are trained to diagnose and treat a wide variety of mental health problems, but typically, clinical psychologists work with people who have more severe problems (such as phobias, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia), while counseling psychologists work with people suffering from less severe disorders (including depression, anxiety, everyday stresses, and relationship and family difficulties). Psychologists can work in agencies, hospitals, clinics, or private practice offices. The American Psychological Association has more information on licensed psychologists.

School psychologists are another type of psychologist; they usually work in a K-12 school setting. Generally they focus on learning and behavior problems, diagnose learning difficulties, and work with teachers and family members to suggest ways to improve classroom climate and parenting skills. Get more information from the National Association of School Psychologists.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe psychiatric medications. They are licensed as doctors but also have special training in mental health issues. Psychiatrists treat conditions such as depression, severe anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists have medical training, and as such, they can prescribe medication if they think it will help you. If your medical doctor thinks that it would be helpful for you to see a psychiatrist, he or she can refer you to one.

Your psychiatrist will listen to you, and talk to you about your emotions and how your emotions may be affecting your behavior. Most psychiatrists are happy to assist young people in this way. If you think your psychiatrist is not listening or hearing your concerns, or if you’re uncomfortable seeing a particular psychiatrist, you can go back to your doctor and ask to see a different one. If you are feeling anxious about a first appointment, you can take a friend or family member to the appointment with you. Sometimes a psychiatrist teams with a psychologist or other mental health professional, with the psychiatrist handling the medication aspect of treatment and the other mental health professional providing the counseling or therapy.

Other people you can talk to

If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, check out our Crisis Helpline directory to find a resource near you or nationwide. You can call Lines for Life’s Suicide LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town for everyone. There are also several apps you could use that connect you to peers going through similar things, as well as licensed professionals waiting to help you.

What mental health professional is right for me?

When you are looking for a mental health professional, it is important to look for someone who is licensed or credentialed in some way, so you are protected by ethical and legal rules governing all health professionals. What kind of license they hold is usually less important than if they’re a good fit in terms of training, specialty, personality, and availability.

If you need to find someone who works at a sliding scale clinic or accepts your insurance, then that is a more important factor for you than which license they hold. Similarly, you want to look for someone with training and experience in your particular area of concern, because the most skilled eating disorder therapist might not know the first thing about bipolar disorder. Just as importantly, you want to find someone who you feel comfortable with, someone you trust. All of that is usually more important than what initials someone has after his or her name!

It’s normal to use your first session with a prospective therapist (of some kind) to ask them questions to get to know if they’re the best fit for you. For ideas of what questions you should ask, try some of these. One resource you can use to maximize your search for a mental health professional is through Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool. You can search by location, insurance, religious affiliations, specific mental health issues, the gender of the therapist, and more. Theravive is an international resource that can help you find a therapist local to you, also. It’s important that you can trust your therapist, otherwise you won’t be getting the help you deserve to aid in your treatment.

Different approaches to counseling

Not all mental health professionals are the same—each has his or her own personality, theoretical orientation or approach to counseling and general style. For more information on some common types of therapy, check out the Counseling and Therapy article.  Finding someone to suit you is important. It’s helpful to remember that this can take time, and the first counselor or therapist you see might not be the right one for you. Try not to give up. If you don’t feel comfortable with the first counselor you see, or if you think the person isn’t listening to you, it’s OK to find a different counselor.

Taking medication

Sometimes just talking to someone will help. Other times, you might need medication to feel better. If a psychiatrist suggests you take medication, make sure you understand the effects of the drug and what some of the potential side effects might be. Some people find it useful to get a second opinion about taking medications. A second opinion may help you decide if using medication is something you want to do. It is important that you receive the information you need to make this decision.

Making an appointment

Psychiatrists work in both agency or hospital settings as well as private practice. Regardless of the setting, you will usually have to make an appointment. If they are busy, you may have to wait a while before your first appointment. If things feel really desperate, tell them it’s urgent, and they may be able to fit you in.

Asking about your privacy

It’s a good idea to talk to the psychiatrist you see about keeping your information private. This is generally something that your psychiatrist will bring up in your first session, but if they don’t, it’s OK for you to ask. In most situations, unless you ask the psychiatrist to share information, your psychiatrist will keep what you tell him or her confidential. If you would tell your psychiatrist something that suggests you are in serious danger to yourself or another person the psychiatrist would be ethically bound to share that information so that you or the other person could be safe. Psychiatrists are also required by law to report instances of abuse and there may be circumstances where they would be compelled to testify in a court case. The parameters for when a mental health professional can be required to testify vary by state.

Paying for treatment

If you’re insured, your insurance provider might require you to see a psychiatrist within a specified network, and you might have to pay for part of your visit. This payment is called a co-pay, and usually costs between $20 and $40 or a percentage of the costs (e.g. insurance will cover 80% and you will pay 20%). Your insurance might also only cover specific treatments. If you don’t have insurance, you might have to pay for your treatment out-of-pocket, which can be costly.

Every insurance carrier is different, and you might want to ask your psychiatrist about payment before you make an appointment. Some community agencies may offer a sliding scale which means you pay according to your income and what you can afford. If you are in school, you can check to see if there is a school counselor who can talk to about your struggles.


Acknowledgement: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Developing Coping Strategies


Coping 101

A closer look at developing coping skills that work for you


How can I develop coping strategies?

In some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problems we find ourselves in. For example, if you didn’t get into your dream college it’s natural to feel upset and disappointed. It may trigger thoughts of not being good enough or asking yourself why that happened to you. If your dream college rejects you, don’t feel discouraged. You’re able to talk to your friends about what they’ve done when a college rejected them or you can talk to a school counselor to see what your other options are. If you spend all your time thinking about why you didn’t get in then you lose time looking at other colleges that you may like just as much as your dream college.

When things don’t go as planned, there are other alternative routes to take. These routes become easier to identify once you find the right coping strategy. If you’ve tried a number of problem-solving strategies and none of them have worked, it might be time to focus on developing skills to help you cope with your problem.

Coping strategies can help you learn to accept situations that are beyond your control and find ways to help you feel better even if the problem still exists. When you develop coping strategies, you’re able to build resilience. You’re able to see things in a better perspective and you’ll feel much better about how you handled a certain situation. Being able to cope with things makes you a stronger person.

To develop coping strategies, try taking the following actions:

  • Challenge negative self-talk. Try and focus more on positives about yourself rather than the negatives. The less you bring yourself down, the better you feel about yourself. Check out our article here for more information.

  • Talk to people who can support you.  Opening up, whether it’s to a best friend, a close family member, or a counselor, can be helpful. They may offer a new perspective or just a comforting response to help you through. If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone in person, you can also call a helpline anonymously. There is always someone there to listen to you.

  • Relax. Breath. A little relief can go a long way towards helping you reflect on your situation and what can you do for yourself. You may want to try deep breaths, a long walk or something else that you find soothing.

  • Distract yourself. Try not to spend all your time and energy thinking about your problem. Keep yourself occupied. Keeping busy can help lift your mood and may even offer opportunities to channel your emotions into positive outlets.

  • Get involved. Make time for enjoyable activities so that you don’t focus exclusively on your problem. Volunteering in areas that interest you may also help.

Different coping strategies

There are numerous ways we can use coping skills to deal with the circumstances and emotional states we find ourselves in. Sometimes our emotions are so intense that relaxing in the moment is out of the question. In order to come to a centered place, we need to get out of our minds and bring ourselves to the present moment. When we are grounded, we are more capable of handling our emotions in an effective way.

Some ways of doing this are through tapping into the five senses. To practice these mindfully, absorb your attention into everything you do. If you’re eating, notice the textures, the different flavors, and the temperature of the food. Really try to be with the moment as much as possible. If you find your mind wandering off, be gentle with yourself and come back to the present moment. It can take a lot of practice to be fully present, so go easy on yourself.

Coping strategies through the five senses:

  • Touch. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket, walk in the grass with bare feet, hold a warm mug of tea, hold your best friend’s hand, explore nearby textures, notice the feeling of your clothes on your skin and the quality it holds (heavy, soft, scratchy, loose, etc)

  • Sight. Notice the textures around you, name the colors you see, look at photos you’ve taken when you were at peace or happy, identify plants or animals on a walk

  • Hearing. Listen to all the small sounds happening around you, hear your breath as you breathe in deeply, try to identify all the instruments used in some soft music, listen to a guided meditation

  • Taste. Notice the texture of the food or drink, identify the different flavors, let food melt in your mouth as you explore its qualities, drink something refreshing

  • Smell. Enjoy the different scents of your environment, try to figure out the different smells you come across, light a candle or incense

Once you find yourself in a space where you’re capable of relaxing and soothing yourself, explore using your current strengths or talents as a form of self-care. If you’re unsure what that might be for you, try thinking of things that make you feel fully absorbed, perhaps losing track of time from how involved you are with this activity. This sensation is called “being in flow”. You’re partaking in something that naturally speaks to you and allows you to transform your feelings by channeling them into something that makes you feel good. If you’re having a hard time thinking of what that might look like for you, try exploring some of the possibilities below.

Coping skills for self-care & relaxation:

  • Yoga

  • Journaling

  • Listening to your favorite music (or songs you can sing along to)

  • Taking a hot bath or shower

  • Going on a walk

  • Putting yourself out in nature

  • Meditating

  • Self-massage

  • Reading a book

  • Studying something that interests you

  • Painting or drawing

  • Having someone play with your hair

Our feelings often act as a sort of internal communication with ourselves. Pay attention to the feelings you have, but don’t become absorbed by them. They’re trying to tell us something about ourselves. Maybe it means we need to set better boundaries for ourselves, or perhaps, telling us how much we care. Although it’s important we sit with our feelings at times, it’s equally important to let those feelings pass and move on. This isn’t the same as avoiding our problems—it’s creating space to let things go.

Healthy distractions:

  • Writing poetry, short stories, fan-fiction, or exploring creative writing prompts

  • Playing or learning an instrument

  • Doing something creative like painting, sculpting, woodworking, or building things

  • Working out

  • Playing video games

  • Watching a movie

  • Calling a friend

  • Watching funny videos online

  • Browsing wholesome content on social media

  • Experimenting with makeup

  • Learning a new language

  • Cleaning up your room

  • Taking care of your pets or plants

  • Cooking a nice meal

Practice acceptance

When you’re faced with a difficult situation, an important question to ask is: “What’s the best thing I can do to resolve this problem?” If there’s anything you can do, it’s important to work through the options one step at a time. Writing out your options and then weighing them with a pros and cons list may be a helpful way of narrowing down the best resolution. However, sometimes you might find yourself in a situation that you can’t change, no matter how much you would like things to be different.

There’s not much you can do about your height, your age, most of your physical features or the family you were born into. There are also things that have happened in the past that you can’t change. What has happened has happened, and we can’t change the past, but you can still change the way you deal with a situation in the future.

The best way to deal with situations you can’t change is to practice acceptance. This means accepting the way things are without insisting that they should be different, and deciding to get on with life in spite of the situation. Accepting how things are or happened and letting go of the attachment you have to more favorable outcomes will reduce the amount of suffering you put on yourself. Sometimes, accepting things as they are and removing expectations (from yourself AND others) can remove the pressure for things to be perfect or to always go well, and can better allow you to heal.

Coping Strategies and Resolutions

Is there a situation that you don’t like? If you can change it, try working through the eight steps in the Problem Solving article to find a solution to your problem. If not, see how you feel after trying to accept the situation. What can you say to yourself to accept the situation? What sorts of things can you do to get on with your life in a positive way, in spite of the problem?

Remember that problems are a normal part of life, and that we usually feel better when we do something to resolve them rather than just dwell on them. But, if you can’t solve the problem, it’s helpful to change the way you think about it. Practice acceptance and move on with life in a positive way.


Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for



Don’t worry, be happy

A closer look at becoming happier in your daily life


What is happiness?

Happiness can mean different things to different people. For example, for one person, it may mean being in a relationship, whereas for someone else, it could mean feeling like you have the ability to handle whatever life throws at you.

While you might think that there are certain things that make you happy (or could make you happy if you had them), research has shown that there are certain common traits among happy people—and they aren’t necessarily what you might think.

What makes happy people happy?

You might think that happy people have lots of money, are physically attractive, have great jobs, or own the latest gadgets. Or, you might just think happy people are plain lucky and are born that way.

Research suggests, however, that there are a number of variables that make a far greater contribution to happiness than external and more superficial factors.

That doesn’t mean that if you have a lot of money you won’t be happy, or that having a lot of money is bad, it just means that other factors are more important in determining happiness. In fact, a strong positive relationship between job status, income, and wealth and happiness only exists for those who live below the poverty line or who are unemployed.

What distinguishes happy people is that they have a different attitude—a different way of thinking about things and doing things. They interpret the world in a different way, and go about their lives in a different way.

Why is happiness important?

This might seem obvious. (Why wouldn’t you want to be happy?!) But the implications are greater than you might think. Happier people are generally healthier people—not only mentally, but also physically. Happiness is actually something that is really important, and that you might want to increase if you can.

The “happiness equation”

It has been suggested that there are several factors that contribute toward happiness. This is an ”equation for happiness,” suggested by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman:

H = S + C + V

H = Happiness

S = Set range (genetics: about 50%)

C = Circumstances (8-15%)

V = Voluntary Control (past, present, future)

This looks very scientific, and is actually based on research findings, but it can be explained quite simply:

Set range/genetics. There is some evidence to support that people are born with a certain “set-point” of happiness, which is determined by our genes. This is supposed to change only slightly, if at all, as we get older. Our genetic predisposition to happiness contributes around 50% to our level of happiness.

So if something dramatic happens—for example, you win the lottery or break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend—within a year or so (depending on the situation), your happiness level will return to its set point.

Circumstances. There’s also some evidence to suggest that the circumstance we live in influence our level of happiness. You don’t always have a lot of control over your circumstances—for example, we can’t all live in mansions and drive new cars. Evidence suggests, however, that this accounts for only about 8% to 15% of our happiness, which really isn’t that much.

Voluntary control. This third factor is the most important factor in the equation, because you can control it, and in the process control your happiness. It includes all aspects of your life over which you have a relatively high degree of control, including your thoughts and actions. This includes the way you choose to think about and act on the past, present, and future, and seems to have a significant impact on how happy you are—it could be up to 42%!

  • Past. When thinking about the past, people who are happier pay attention to what was good about the past, rather than focusing on the unhappy times. They are grateful, forgiving, and don’t believe that the past will determine what happens in the future. For more information on gratitude, for the past, check out the Gratitude, forgiveness and their influence on your happiness fact sheet.

  • Future. When it comes to thinking about the future, happy people are flexibly optimistic. What this means is that they are optimistic (in a realistic sense) about how their future is going to be, but if it doesn’t turn out that way, they know it’s not going to be the end of the world either.

  • Present. The way you think about and act in the present is also essential in determining how happy you are. This might include actions like taking pleasure in life and your surroundings, building and being in meaningful relationships, and the way we react to things in life, good and bad.

You do have control over your happiness

You can see from this equation that you do have some control over your happiness. Even though a certain proportion of your happiness is beyond your control, and is determined by genetics and by circumstances (which you can only control to a certain extent), you can increase your happiness level by focusing on those areas in your life that you can control.

You might choose to control your attitude, the way you interpret situations and the way you think about yourself. If you think about it, and the fact that it could be accountable for around 40% of your happiness, this could make a big difference in your life.

But does aiming to be happy mean you can’t be sad?

Not at all. In fact, going through times where you’re sad can sometimes make that happiness all the brighter.

Sadness is a part of life, and sometimes it’s even possible to feel happy and sad about something. For example, you might be happy to move out of home, but sad that you won’t see your family or pets as much any more.

You might even wonder whether it’s possible, or O.K. to be happy, when there is so much suffering and injustice in the world. Happiness is natural, and it’s possible to be compassionate and caring, and in tune with the sadness of the world, while still experiencing happiness in your life. This awareness might even prompt you to act in a way to help improve the situation of others—an action that might actually increase your happiness.

Working on happiness

Happiness is something that means different things to different people, but overall it seems that it’s the way we choose to think about ourselves, our place in the world, and how we act in that world, that differentiates the happy people from the less happy people.

Happiness is something that you actually have voluntary control over and can work on in your daily life. Not only that, but it can contribute to a large proportion of your happiness, as seen in the equation. It’s up to you.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for