This question is very common. The terminology is admittedly confusing! Some mental health professionals provide talk therapy, some prescribe medication, and some provide other services.

Talk Therapy


A psychologist performs psychotherapy and psychological assessment. In other words, psychologists specialize in talk therapy and testing. Psychologists are trained to treat moderate to severe psychological problems. The term psychologist is a reserved term, meaning that only those who have graduated from a doctoral program in clinical psychology, completed a doctoral internship, and passed national and state licensing requirements can call themselves a psychologist. They have either a “Ph.D.” or a “Psy.D.” listed after their name.


Like psychologists, mental health counselors are also trained to conduct psychotherapy. However, counselors tend to treat mild to moderate psychological problems. Counselors have a masters degree, years of supervised clinical experience, and state licensure. In Maryland, they usually have “LCPC” credentials after their name, which stands for Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.

Social Workers

In general, social workers try to support people, act as patient advocates, and direct individuals to appropriate community services. Some social workers also provide psychotherapy. Social workers either have a bachelors or masters degree in social work, and are licensed with the state. In Maryland, they usually have “LCSW-C” credentials after their name, which stands for Licensed Certified Social Worker, Clinical Type.

Medication Management


A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in treating mental illness using a biomedical approach. They do so by prescribing medications. A psychiatrist must graduate from medical school, pass national board exams, complete a four-year residency, and be licensed with the state. They usually have “M.D.” or “D.O.” credentials listed after their name.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are also permitted to prescribe psychiatric medications. In the state of Maryland, they usually have “CRNP” credentials listed after their name, which stands for Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner.

Physician’s Assistants

Sometimes Physician’s Assistants will pair up with psychiatrists to prescribe psychiatric medications. A Physician’s Assistant usually has “P.A.” credentials listed after their name.

Other Services

Pastoral Counselors

Pastoral counseling is a branch of counseling in which psychologically-trained priests, rabbis, ministers, imams, and other religious clergy provide therapy services. Pastoral counselors often integrate modern psychological thought and method with traditional religious training in an effort to address psychospiritual issues.


Coaches try to help people identify and achieve personal goals through skill development. Examples include Life Coaches, Executive Functioning Coaches, Career Counselors, Academic Tutors, Relationship Coaches, and Executive Coaches. In Maryland, there are no state regulations or licensing requirements for coaches. Due to lack of regulation, people who have no formal training or experience can call themselves professional coaches. Because of this, I generally recommend that people be very careful when considering a life coach.