When deciding that you need extra help other than your primary care physician dealing with your mental health disorder you may wonder if you need to see a psychologist, prescribing psychologist, psychiatrist, or even a Certified Nurse Practitioner / Certified Nurse Specialist (CNP/CNS). All behavioral health providers are trained in therapy, but there are some differences that knowing about can assist you in making an informed decision on who is the correct fit for your goal.

What is a Certified Nurse Practitioner / Certified Nurse Specialist (CNP/CNS)?
Certified Nurse Practitioner / Certified Nurse Specialist (CNP/CNS) focus in behavioral health. They have an advanced nursing degree equal to a doctorate that allows them to prescribe and manage medication associated with mental health issues. If you are trying to decide which is best for you, you need to know that they are also an option. CNPs/CNSs have an independent license but may choose to work with a psychiatrist on mental health cases.

What is a Psychologist?
A psychologist is a trained professional who has earned a doctorate in psychology (PhD) which takes about five years and has completed a year or two of supervised clinical hours. Their training is on specific forms of therapy.

What then is a Prescribing Psychologist?
A prescribing psychologist is a psychologist with prescriptive authority, that is, they can prescribe and manage medication. This is a license unique to a few states and New Mexico is one of them.

What training do they have?
A prescribing psychologist must complete a post-doctorate degree in psychopharmacology, and engage more supervision. Each state that recognizes prescribing psychologists has different requirements. In the state of NM, a minimum of 450 hours of classroom instruction (about four months) and 400 hours of supervised practicum. Prescribing psychologists then undergo 1500 hours of direct patient care supervised by a medical doctor. Supervision is often done by weekly case review. They must also pass a certified exam in psychopharmacology.

Who is a Psychiatrist?
The psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has finished four years of medical school (MD or DO) followed by four years of residency. Resident physicians work in hospital and clinical settings under direct supervision by licensed doctors. Once they complete a residency, they are considered board eligible and able to practice psychiatry. A psychiatrist must then take an exam managed by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to become board certified.

A psychiatrist may also spend 1-2 years in a fellowship following residency to specialize in child and adolescents, geriatrics, addictions, consult liaison, sleep medicine and pain medicine.