Who can provide mental health services?


Most Hispanics who call me to request the services of a mental health professional ask if the person who will see them is a psychologist.  In many Spanish-speaking countries, it is common to relate mental health services with a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  Although psychologists and psychiatrists are highly trained professionals to provide these services, there are other qualified professionals who have received training and undertaken the studies needed to work with people who are experiencing emotional or psychological challenges.  Examples include licensed social workers (LCSWs), licensed professional counselors (LPCs), and psychiatric nurses.

It is important to note that for a person to be called a psychologist and to work in this profession, he or she must be registered with the Psychology Board.  The North Carolina Psychology Board is the agency responsible for regulating and supervising psychologists in the state of North Carolina.  On the other hand, psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized in treating patients with mental illnesses and are authorized to prescribe medications, if needed.  Currently, in the state of North Carolina, only psychiatrists, physicians (MDs), physician assistants (PAs), and nurse practitioners (NPs) can prescribe drugs to their patients.  Psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, or any other healthcare provider cannot prescribe medication.

The number of licensed bilingual mental health professionals is very limited in Mecklenburg County.  There is a great need for such professionals in the Spanish-speaking community.  The lack of professionals able to provide individual and group therapy, couples and family counseling, and play therapy poses a problem.  However, it is worth noting that some bilingual professionals are coming from out of state, with numbers gradually and slowly growing in this county.  Some are already offering their services to agencies and to other local mental health centers.

As a user of any mental health service, you are entitled to ask your provider for his or her credentials.  You can also ask to see their liability insurance card.  This is probably one of the safest ways to make sure you are being served by a licensed and qualified mental health clinician.

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