The good news for service members seeking mental health care in the Military Health System is there are many options for care. But it can be difficult to understand the many types of mental health care providers and the kinds of services they offer. Here is a list of common types of providers found in military treatment facilities. Providers can use this overview with service member and veteran patients, particularly new patients, to help them find the right provider for their specific needs.
A psychologist holds a doctoral degree in psychology (a Ph.D. or Psy.D). Psychologists are employed in specialty care (outpatient mental health clinics), inpatient hospital psychiatric units, primary care (as described below), and may be embedded into military commands. Psychologists assess and diagnose mental health conditions; provide therapy; administer and interpret psychological testing; and provide psychological evaluations. Some psychologists in the military are trained and credentialed to prescribe psychotropic medications to their patients.
A psychiatrist holds a medical degree (doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO)) and has medical and psychiatric training. Psychiatrists work in specialty care (outpatient mental health clinics), inpatient hospital psychiatric units, and may be embedded into military commands. Psychiatrists diagnose mental health conditions; prescribe and monitor medications; and provide specialty psychiatric evaluations.
Clinical Social Worker
A clinical social worker holds at least a master’s degree (MS) in social work. Similar to psychologists, clinical social workers commonly work in mental health clinics, hospitals, inpatient psychiatric units, and primary care. They’re also used in family advocacy and family programs to conduct risk assessments and psychosocial assessments of children, adults and families; collaborate with community resources regarding abuse cases; and provide psychoeducation for families and parents. Social workers can diagnose and provide individual and group counseling, case management and advocacy services.
Behavioral Health Technician
A behavioral health technician, also called a mental health technician, psychiatric technician, or behavioral health specialist, supports mental health services across several settings including psychiatry, psychology, social work, and substance abuse prevention and rehabilitation. Behavioral health technicians are enlisted service members who are trained through the military at the Medical Education and Training Campus in San Antonio. These technicians assist in both inpatient and outpatient mental health clinics by performing intake assessments, assisting with individual and group therapy, providing patient education, and increasing the efficiency and efficacy of a clinic.
Embedded Behavioral Health Provider
Embedded behavioral health providers are embedded into expeditionary military units for the purpose of recognizing signs of problems early, fostering prevention and early intervention efforts, increasing access to care, and making military units more comfortable with the idea of seeking mental health care. They administer advanced evaluations and community-level treatment to improve service members’ well-being, decrease behavioral health symptoms, and strengthen positive unit climates.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric nurse practitioners have a master’s degree in nursing. They practice in inpatient psychiatric units (including partial programs), outpatient mental health clinics, alcohol/drug rehabilitation programs, and combat stress units. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide crisis interventions, patient counseling, and critical incident debriefings and can prescribe medications.
Clinical Providers in Primary Care
Not everyone with a mental health concern needs specialty care. Since 2013, the Defense Department aims to provide adult behavioral health services in primary care as a means of increasing access to care, identifying problems early, reducing stigma associated with seeking care, and reducing costs. Common issues that can be treated in primary care include mild depression, anxiety, chronic medical issues, relationship issues, stress, anger, sleep, diet, and alcohol misuse.
Internal Behavioral Health Consultant
An internal behavioral health consultant is a specially-trained psychologist or social worker (see descriptions above) who provides assessments of behavioral health symptoms and care in the primary care setting. These consultants provide focused interventions and skills training with the aim of behavioral change to optimize health.
External Behavioral Health Consultant
An external behavioral health consultant is a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner (a registered nurse with postgraduate training in mental health), or prescribing psychologist who provides consultation to the primary care providers regarding psychotropic medication decisions, switching medications, and managing side effects.
Behavioral Health Care Facilitator
A behavioral health care facilitator is a registered nurse who is trained to provide mental health care for such disorders as mild depression and anxiety. They interact frequently with the patient to answer questions about care, ensure adherence to the treatment plan, and monitor the patient’s response to treatment. A primary function of the behavioral health care facilitator is ensuring an individual’s clinical care team is collaborating with one another to manage a patient’s symptoms and recovery.
A chaplain has an advanced degree in religion or theology and provides confidential assistance regarding spiritual and mental health concerns, often by means of short-term counseling to individuals regarding a range of concerns such as spirituality, work-related stress, grief, and marriage and family relationship troubles. Chaplains also collaborate with mental health providers and work to improve service members’ attitudes and knowledge regarding mental health concerns such as suicide, combat stress and depression.
Military and Family Life Counselor
Military family life counselors hold a master’s or doctoral degree in a mental health-related field (often social workers or psychologists) and provide support services to service members and their spouses and families. They offer non-medical, short-term counseling to address concerns related to family life, parenting, relationship and emotional issues. When situations require additional psychological health treatment, these life counselors make referrals to appropriate behavioral health agencies. Counselors are often embedded within military units to allow service members immediate access to counseling.
Learn more about the community providers mentioned below through TRICARE and other community resources.
Counselor (Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor)
Counselors have a master’s degree (M.S. or M.A.) in counseling with many providers having specialized degrees in such topics as:
college counseling and student affairs
- marriage, couple and family counseling
Counselors can be found in a variety of community treatment settings including schools/colleges, alcohol and drug treatment centers, outpatient and inpatient mental health centers, rehabilitation centers, career centers, and several other social service/counseling/support service organizations. They assess, diagnose and treat a variety of mental health conditions and career, school, and psychosocial concerns. They provide therapy and similar to clinical social workers, they provide risk assessments, collaborate with community resources, and provide psychoeducation to children, adults and families.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Licensed marriage and family therapists have a master’s degree (M.S. or M.A) and specialize in treating couples and families. Similar to other community providers, marriage and family therapists can assess, diagnose and treat in a variety of clinical settings and can diagnose and treat mental health and relationship concerns.
For information on how to connect with a mental health provider and other support resources, visit the Real Warriors Campaign Seek Help, Get Care webpage or call the Psychological Health Resource Center.
Schendel is a contracted psychologist and psychological health subject matter expert at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She has a doctorate in counseling psychology and a master’s in clinical psychology.
The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.