Learn about the different mental and behavioral health provider types and how to access care

By Regence
May 11, 2022
counselor talking to clients

Finding the right behavioral health provider these days is harder than ever as both demand and wait times have increased. In fact, the New York Times and Psychology Today surveyed therapists in late 2021 and found 90% have seen a significant increase in the number of people seeking mental health care. And 75% of clinicians surveyed said there was an increase in wait times to get an appointment, with nearly one in three reporting a minimum three-month wait time.

Increasing access to behavioral and mental health care continues to be a key priority for Regence and our provider partners. When it’s time to find mental health support, knowing the different provider types can help you understand what to expect and know where to go to help you get the care you need when you need it. Below is an overview of different types of specialties and job titles. The job titles and licenses can vary by state.


A psychologist has a doctorate in clinical psychology or other specialty such as counseling or education. They can evaluate your mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and diagnostic testing. Psychologists provide individual and group therapy and may be specially trained in specific types of behavioral therapy interventions.

Counselors, clinicians and therapists

These mental health care professionals have master’s degrees and operate under a variety of job titles based on the treatment setting. They are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on their specific training. The care of these specialties can lead to symptom reduction as well as improved thinking, feeling and quality of life. The licensure and certification vary by state and specialty, including licensed professional counselor (LPC), licensed certified professional counselor (LCPC), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), and licensed clinical alcohol & drug abuse counselor (LCADAC). Providers must be licensed to be covered by insurance.

Clinical social workers

Like counselors and therapists, clinical social workers are trained to evaluate mental health and use specialized therapeutic techniques. Additionally, clinical social workers are trained in case management and advocacy services. A master’s degree in social work as well as licensing and certification are required. Some examples include licensed independent social workers (LICSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Providers must be licensed to be covered by insurance.


A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor (MD or DO) who has completed psychiatric residence training. They diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe medication and provide therapy. Some are specialists in child and adolescent mental health, substance misuse or geriatric psychiatry. 

Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioners who are specialized in psychiatry hold a master’s of science or doctorate in philosophy (Ph.D) and are licensed in the state where they practice. They assess, diagnose and provide therapy for mental health conditions and substance misuse, and in some states they are qualified to prescribe medications.

Primary care provider and family nurse practitioners

Your primary care provider (PCP), pediatrician or family nurse practitioner is a good place to start if you are unsure where to find mental health support. They can recommend a specialist or other therapy as well as prescribe medication. They can work with your mental health provider to help guide the best course of treatment. 

Certified peer specialists

A certified peer specialist has lived experience with a mental health condition or substance misuse. They are not therapists or licensed, but they are trained and certified to support recovery through helping set goals and developing strengths as a mentor and guide. Check with your health plan as many certified peer specialists may not be covered under your benefits.

When to seek one of these mental health professionals

Your primary care provider is a good place to start. Sometimes illnesses can cause symptoms similar to mental illness. Even if you don't think your condition will require medical treatment, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and they can help you by making a referral to a mental health specialist. 

If you have a mental health condition that may benefit from medication, you should probably consult a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist.  

If you're seeking help with emotions, behaviors and thinking patterns, you should locate a psychologist, therapist or counselor. These provider types have specialties too, so you can find one that focuses in what you are experiencing.

What to do in a crisis

It is common to feel unprepared or unsure of what to do when a loved one is experiencing a crisis. The best approach is to be patient and remain calm. Don’t argue or raise your voice, instead offer your support, show you care, talk openly and be honest.

Crisis resources

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • For substance abuse and mental health crises, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit samhsa.gov
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Regence members can access a spectrum of behavioral health resources

Whether you need occasional emotional support or ongoing mental health care, Regence has a variety of programs to prevent, identify and treat mental health and substance use disorders. Regence members who want to understand what is available under their health plan can sign in to their account on regence.com, or call us for help finding the right behavioral health resources.