Who are these people? Learning the differences between psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians and other mental health professionals

Who are these people? Learning the differences between psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians and other mental health professionals

Recently, someone posted on a community forum that they were looking for a child psychologist for help with diagnosing ADHD in their child. Some of the recommendations given were for professionals that are able to diagnose, but are not psychologists. There are many different mental health professionals that, while have some overlapping skills and areas of expertise, each have their own specific roles to fill and limitations within their fields of what they can and cannot do. I am hopeful the following descriptions will help those who might be unaware of the differences between these different professionals. It is important to note that In order to treat individuals or groups in a clinical environment — such as a private practice, a group practice, or a hospital — all mental health professionals must be licensed in order to practice. Licensure is conducted on a state-by-state basis, and licensure requirements vary widely from profession to profession. (Unlicensed professionals may work in academia, as a researcher, or in other areas of psychology, psychiatry or mental health that don’t require direct clinical contact with patients.)

Child/Adolescent Psychologist

A child/adolescent psychologist can either have a Masters or Doctorate, usually in Child Psychology, Clinical Psychology or School Psychology. You must have a degree in School Psychology to work in a school setting. You cannot work outside of a school setting with just a Masters in School Psychology (you must  have a doctorate to obtain licensure to have a private practice and call yourself a psychologist.)  A doctorate can be either a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology.) The difference is that the graduate program attended is either more research based (Ph.D.) or more practice based (Psy.D). Both have 5 years of schooling post college graduation with the 5 years including a Masters Degree along the way. This professional is able to work in a multitude of settings, and can provide individual, family, couples and group therapy. Psychologists are the only profession that are able to complete psychological evaluations. These evaluations might be used to determine and diagnose various psychiatric disorders, ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, etc. Usually neuropsychologists perform more in depth evaluations if warranted. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication and usually work with other professionals who can, such as pediatricians, pediatric psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatric nurse practitioners and pediatric neurologists.

School Psychologist

A school psychologist can have either a Masters Degree or Doctorate Degree in School Psychology. A school psychologist cannot diagnose a child when working in a school setting, even if they have their doctorate. School psychologists are trained in psychological and educational testing, as well as in providing therapeutic interventions, behavioral plans, chairing meetings for special education and section 504 plans (another plan that provides for accommodations for students who might not meet requirements for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) through the Committee on Special Education (CSE) but still require extra support in school to be able to perform to their maximum potential.) School psychologists work as part of a team in a school setting with administration, other support staff and teachers.

Neuropsychologist

A neuropsychologist has a doctorate in neuropsychology or has a doctorate in another area of psychology (clinical, child, educational, etc) and then received further training in neuropsychological testing in a post graduate program. A neuropsychologist specializes in understanding the relationship between the physical brain and behavior. The brain is extremely complex, and disorders within the brain or nervous system can alter behavior and cognitive function. They are able to perform more detailed psychological testing to determine various neurological disorders or problems that occur along with ADHD, Learning Disabilities, strokes, concussions, etc.

Clinical Social Worker

A social worker can have either a Masters or Doctorate in Social Work. They must have licensure to do psychotherapy (Licensed Counselor of Social Work). Most programs require the professional to go through thousands of hours of direct clinical experience, and the program focuses on teaching principles of psychotherapy and social work. A social worker can work in a school setting, clinical setting as well as many other settings.

Psychiatric Nurses

Most psychiatric nurses are trained first as a regular registered nurse (R.N.), but get specialized training in psychiatry and some forms of psychotherapy, typically including up to 500 hours of direct clinical experience. Psychiatric nurses in most states may also carry prescription privileges.

Pediatrician

A pediatrician graduated from medical school and has an MD (Doctor of Medicine.) You must attend 4 years of medical school, then one year of internship and 3 years of residency in pediatrics. Pediatricians can prescribe medication, however, many will refer patients to other mental health professionals to determine the need for psychiatric medication and/or therapy.

Developmental Pediatrician

A Developmental Pediatrician graduated from medical school and has an MD (Doctor of Medicine). You must attend 4 years of medical school, then one year of internship and 3 years of residency in pediatrics, followed by a fellowship in developmental-behavioral pediatrics. Developmental-behavioral pediatricians evaluate, counsel, and provide treatment for children, adolescents, and their families with a wide range of developmental and behavioral difficulties.

Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist

A Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist graduated from medical school and has an MD (Doctor of Medicine.) Child and adolescent psychiatric training requires 4 years of medical school, at least 3 years of approved residency training in medicine, neurology, and general psychiatry with adults, and 2 years of additional specialized training in psychiatric work with children, adolescents, and their families. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication. Many psychiatrists work in conjunction with other professionals who work with the patient via talk therapy, although some also provide talk therapy.

Pediatric Neurologist

A pediatric neurologist graduated from medical school and has an MD (Doctor of Medicine.) You must attend 4 years of medical school, then one year of internship and 3 years of residency in pediatrics and then 3 years of residency in neurology. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication. Child neurologists often diagnose, treat, and manage conditions such as seizure disorders, medical aspects of head injuries and brain tumors, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and nerve-muscle disorders, headaches, including migraines, behavioral disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), school failure, autism, and sleep problems, developmental disorders, including delayed speech, motor milestones, and coordination issues.