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Who Can Help?

Before you can begin treatment with medication or psychotherapy you will need to contact a mental health professional that can diagnose you and work out a treatment plan with you. There are four main types of mental health professionals that are trained to deal with bipolar disorder: psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatric social workers.

Types of Mental Health Professionals:

Psychiatric Nurses
Psychiatric Social Workers


Psychiatrists hold the M.D. degree. Their education includes the four years of medical school required for that degree, a one year internship, and an additional three or four years of residency training in psychiatry.

This medical background is important for several reasons. First, it uniquely qualifies psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness. Diagnosis is just as essential in dealing with mental disorders as it is in dealing with medical disorders. The decision to recommend drug therapy, psychotherapy, or a combination of both can only be reached after an accurate diagnosis has been made. Secondly, physical illnesses can sometimes trigger psychiatric illnesses, or even mimic them, and psychiatrists are specially trained to recognize situations in which a medical disorder is masquerading or worsening a mental disorder. Thirdly, of all the specialists involved in mental health care, only psychiatrists can prescribe drugs and assess the benefits and side effects of these drugs in the treatment of mental disorders.

Like psychiatrists, psychologists are licensed mental health professionals who must meet state certification or licensing requirements to legally advertise themselves as psychologists. Typically, this requires a Ph.D in clinical or counseling psychology or a related specialty, a one-year internship at a mental health facility, a specified number of hours of supervised clinical work, and a national licensing examination. Their training includes coursework in psychopathology, personality, diagnosis, psychological testing, psychotherapy, and human physiology. The Psy.D, a relatively new degree, now also qualifies for licensing in many states. This course of study is geared more toward clinical practice and less toward research than traditional Ph.D programs.

Psychiatrists and psychologists often work together in treating bipolar patients.

All states either license or register nurses. Candidates must have a degree in nursing and pass a state examination. Psychiatric clinical nurses receive additional, specialized training in mental health care through formal classroom instruction and/or hospital experience. Psychiatric clinical nurse specialists go on to earn a master's degree and receive supervised training in individual, group, and family psychotherapy.

In most states social workers are also either certified or licensed. Generally, this procedure requires a master's degree in social work (which includes two years of course work and patient contact), two years of supervised postgraduate experience, and a qualifying statewide examination.

Social workers who have expertise in the treatment of emotional and psychiatric problems are called clinical or psychiatric social workers. Traditionally, psychiatric social workers work in the family counseling services or community agencies, where they specialize in intake (assessment and screening of clients), take psychiatric histories, and deal with other agencies.

All information contained in this web site is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your medical doctor or psychiatrist.
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This Site Updated 04/09/11