Different types of health care professionals can treat people with bipolar disorder. Your doctor’s ability to help depends to a large extent on the information you provide. Always be open and honest with your health care team. If you need a referral or recommendation for a care provider in your area, support organizations or your primary care physician may be able to help.

mental health professionals

There are different types of health care professionals who treat bipolar disorder, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses or nurse practitioners. Whenever you meet with a member of your health care team, it’s important to answer questions honestly and completely and to openly discuss any symptoms you’re having. This can help ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

Psychiatrists

  • Medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs)
  • Specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses
  • Some seek further training to specialize in certain areas of psychiatry (for example, geriatric or addiction psychiatry)
  • Can prescribe medications

PCPs (Primary Care Physicians)

  • Medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs)
  • Coordinate medical care and identify specialists and make referrals when necessary
  • Follow up regarding issues identified through initial health assessment screenings
  • Can prescribe medications

Clinical Psychologists or Counseling Psychologists

  • Usually hold an advanced degree, for example, a doctor of philosophy (PhD) or doctor of psychology (PsyD) degree
  • Trained in psychology, the branch of science that deals with the mind, mental processes, and behaviors
  • Generally treat mental illnesses and provide psychotherapy for a range of issues, from marriage problems to personality disorders
  • Clinical psychologists usually work in counseling centers, independent or group practices, hospitals, or clinics
  • Counseling psychologists work in settings like hospitals, university counseling centers, and individual or group practices
  • Are not medical doctors and are generally not authorized to prescribe medication, except in certain states where such authorization has been given

Clinical Social Workers

  • Most have a master’s degree in social work (MSW), but training and education vary widely. To provide mental health services they must have advanced training and be licensed by their states
  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) may provide therapy in private practices, psychiatric facilities, hospitals, and community agencies depending upon the state
  • Cannot prescribe medications or order medical tests

Psychiatric Nurses/Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

  • Psychiatric nurses are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who have extra training in mental health and may have an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree
    • May offer mental health assessments and psychotherapy and may provide medication management assistance under the supervision of medical doctors
  • Advanced-practice registered nurses (APRNs) in psychiatry have at least a master’s degree in psychiatric mental health
    • Can diagnose and treat mental illnesses
    • Are usually authorized to prescribe medications
    • May be qualified to practice independently, without the supervision of a doctor

It’s important to communicate with your health care team. Consider using these questions to ask your doctor (PDF) to help prepare for your next appointment.