There are many types of professionals who provide evidence-based psychotherapy and medication to people who have experienced trauma. Mental health professionals can have different training, credentials, or licenses. Providers can also offer different services, based upon their expertise.
If you are looking for a particular type of treatment (like medications) or expert focus, the license and specialized training of the mental health provider is important. See more information about Choosing a Therapist to help with your recovery.
The information below reviews the most common types of licensed mental health providers and generally explains their education, training, and services offered. Whether or not a therapist needs a license to provide psychotherapy and the requirements to be licensed varies by state. Your health insurance provider may also allow you to see only certain types of mental health providers. Check your policy for details.
Who is licensed to provide psychotherapy for PTSD?
The mental health professionals below provide psychotherapy for PTSD, and in most states, are not licensed to prescribe medications.
Licensed clinical psychologists focus on mental health assessment and treatment. They have a doctoral degree (e.g., PhD, PsyD, EdD) from 4 or more years of graduate training in clinical or counseling psychology. To be licensed to practice, psychologists must have another 1 to 2 years of supervised clinical experience. Psychologists have the title of "doctor" because of their doctoral degree, but in most states they cannot prescribe medicine.
Clinical Social Workers
The purpose of social work is to enhance human well-being by helping people meet basic human needs. Licensed social workers also focus on diagnosis and treatment, and specialize in areas such as mental health, aging, of family and children. Most licensed social workers have a master's degree from 2 years of graduate training (e.g., MSW) or a doctoral degree in social work (e.g., DSW or PhD).
Master's Level Clinicians
Master's level clinicians have a master's degree in counseling, psychology, or marriage and family therapy (e.g., MA, MFT). To be licensed to provide individual and/or group counseling, master's level clinicians must meet requirements that vary by state.
Who is licensed to provide medications for PTSD?
Working with a specialist who commonly sees patients with PTSD is ideal. However, in addition to the mental health providers listed below, primary care physicians, physician's assistants and nurse practitioners are usually qualified to prescribe medications for PTSD.
Psychiatrists have either a Doctor of Allopathic Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree in addition to specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems. Since they are medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medicine. Some may also provide psychotherapy.
Psychiatric Nurses or Nurse Practitioners
Psychiatric mental health nurses (PMHN) can have different levels of training. Most are registered nurses (RN) with additional training in psychiatry or psychology. Psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMH-APRN) have a graduate degree. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are registered nurse practitioners with specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems. In most states, psychiatric nurses and psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe medicine.
Becoming a VA PTSD provider
VA is a leader in treating mental health issues, including PTSD, and employs a number of different types of mental health providers. Becoming a PTSD therapist within the VA first requires training and licensure as a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, psychologist, clinical social worker, or master's level clinician as described above. In addition to obtaining a license, experience in assessing and treating PTSD is expected.
Learn about VA's mission to improve the lives of Veterans and their families and locate job openings: VA's Mental Health Careers.
There are more types of therapists, counselors, and mental health providers who are qualified to treat issues related to trauma. You can learn more in the career services department of your college or university. Professional associations for mental health providers are also a good resource for gathering information. To find information about becoming a mental health counselor and licensure in your state, visit the National Board for Certified Counselorsl.
From the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs. www.ptsd.va.gov.