Which Mental Health Professionals Can Prescribe Medication?
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Navigating mental health care can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with your options. A variety of different mental health services are available. There’s also a range of different treatment providers with various specialties and levels of education. So who can provide both a diagnosis and effective treatment, including psychiatric medication?

There are many pathways to finding the care you need. Many people begin with outpatient therapy and start exploring medications when some of their symptoms persist. Others may start with an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that includes psychiatric care. Then they could search for an outpatient therapist and psychiatrist to provide continued treatment at a lower level. These are only a few examples out of the many possible directions a mental health treatment journey can take. Each person’s needs are different. Your options may depend on what’s offered in your state or what your insurance will cover. 

This article covers the different mental health professionals who can prescribe psychiatric medication. You’ll learn about some of the differences between them and where you can find them.

Can a psychiatrist prescribe medication?

In short, yes, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that encompasses the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who help clients manage both the mental and physical aspects of these conditions. The treatments they provide can include medication, behavioral interventions and therapy. Psychiatrists can treat complex and co-occurring mental health conditions. They can help clients manage their psychiatric medication, too.

Who can prescribe psychiatric medication? 

The prescriber on your care team may depend on the complexity of your condition or the severity of your symptoms. For instance, many general practitioners and family doctors are qualified to prescribe medication for anxiety and depression. In contrast, a client who has both or a more complex condition like bipolar disorder may see an outpatient psychiatrist.

Other clinical professionals besides psychiatrists can prescribe psychiatric medication. You may work with them through treatment centers like mental health clinics, hospitals and Residential Treatment Programs. Psychiatric nurse practitioners (PMH-APRNs) sometimes work alongside psychiatrists, or they may see clients as part of a multifaceted treatment program. 

Here’s a bit more detail on the mental health professionals who can prescribe psychiatric medication:

  • Psychiatrists — A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. They can diagnose conditions, prescribe treatments and help clients manage their medication. A psychiatrist must have either an M.D. or a D.O.

  • Psychiatric nurse practitioners (PMH-APRNs) — Psychiatric-mental health advanced practice nurses have a graduate-level doctoral nursing degree. Though they are not medical doctors, they can perform many of the same functions as psychiatrists. Their titles and responsibilities can vary by state.

  • Primary care physicians — General practitioners with experience treating mental health conditions can prescribe some medications. They may refer clients to a psychiatrist for more specialized treatment if they have a complex diagnosis or more than one condition.

  • Physician assistants — Physician assistants are clinical professionals with advanced degrees who can also gain experience with psychiatric conditions and treatments.

Can my therapist prescribe psychiatric medication?

Most professionals who primarily provide therapy are psychologists who have studied mental health conditions. However, they don’t usually hold medical degrees. They may have advanced degrees, like a master’s or doctorate in psychology or social work. These degrees address the mental aspects of mental health, but they typically don’t include extensive coursework on brain chemistry, psychiatric drugs or physical health.

What questions should I ask my prescriber?

It can take some time to find the right psychiatric medication or a combination of medications that works for you. Some types of medication can start working within minutes, and others may take weeks or a couple of months to produce results. Depending on the medication, you may notice some minor side effects. These often go away once your body gets acclimated to your medication, but in some cases, they can be serious. Talk with your prescriber to get a clear understanding of what you can expect and what to do if you start experiencing side effects.

Here’s a list of questions that may help guide your conversation:

  • How will we determine if I need psychiatric medication?
  • What kinds of medication can help with my condition?
  • Which medications do you recommend for me, and what dosage should I start with?
  • What side effects should I look out for? What should I do if I start having side effects?
  • How will I know if my medication is working?
  • What’s our plan for long-term maintenance?

Learn more about Lightfully’s approach to prescribing psychiatric medication

Searching for care when you’re in need of help with mental, emotional or behavioral difficulties is hard. But you deserve to work with compassionate professionals who can provide effective treatment. We take a balanced and holistic approach at Lightfully. Each person in our care gets a personalized treatment plan that includes multiple evidence-based therapies. Clients who need medication work with our experienced staff psychiatrists.

Curious to learn more about Lightfully’s treatment programs? Get in touch with one of our Admissions Counselors or contact us with any questions you have. We can’t wait to meet you.

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