who prescribes medication for mental health conditions
Healthy Living

Who Prescribes Medication for Mental Health Conditions?

May 31 2024

Understanding who prescribes medication for mental health conditions is crucial for accessing the right care and treatment. Various health care professionals have the authority to prescribe psychiatric medications, but their qualifications, training and scope of practice can differ significantly.

Who prescribes medication for mental health conditions?

Out of all the professionals who prescribe medication for mental health conditions, foremost among them are psychiatrists. They are equipped with extensive education that includes a doctoral degree in medicine and specialized training in psychiatry. They diagnose and treat mental health disorders, often incorporating medication into their treatment plans.

Common types of medications prescribed include anti-anxiety medications for anxiety disorders, monoamine oxidase inhibitors to treat depression and other common medications for mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and panic attacks.

In certain states, psychologists are allowed to prescribe medication, but are not in most. However, they are frequently the initial point of contact for beginning the process of obtaining a prescription.

Additionally, psychiatric nurse practitioners and certain doctors of osteopathic medicine are qualified to prescribe medication, ensuring broader access to care.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO) who specialize in psychiatry after completing medical school. Psychiatrists complete a four-year residency to learn how to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, including prescribing medications.

Psychiatrists are fully licensed to prescribe medications and manage medication regimens for patients with mental health conditions. They can offer psychotherapy and medication management, and may refer patients to psychologists or therapists for counseling.


Psychologists usually have a PhD or PsyD in psychology and are mainly trained in therapy and testing. They are licensed to provide counseling and therapy but are not medical doctors.

Psychologists generally do not prescribe medications. However, in a few states, psychologists who have completed additional training and certification in psychopharmacology may have limited prescribing rights.

What is a psychiatrist vs. psychologist?

Understanding the distinction between psychiatrists and psychologists is fundamental in mental health care. Psychiatrists, being medical doctors specialized in psychiatry, are adept at diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, including prescribing medication.

Conversely, psychologists focus on behavior and cognition through doctoral-level training in psychology. While proficient in psychotherapy and psychological assessment, psychologists mainly do not prescribe medication. Instead, they collaborate closely with psychiatrists and other professionals to provide comprehensive care.

How does a psychiatrist diagnose you?

The diagnostic process conducted by psychiatrists is thorough and systematic. It typically commences with an initial evaluation, where detailed information about the patient’s symptoms, medical history and psychosocial background is gathered. This may involve interviews, record reviews and collateral information gathering.

Psychiatrists then conduct a clinical assessment to evaluate the patient’s mental status, behavior, cognition and emotions. This comprehensive evaluation enables them to formulate accurate diagnoses and develop tailored treatment plans.

Do psychiatrists always prescribe medication?

While psychiatrists have the authority to prescribe medication, their treatment approach is far from one-dimensional. They consider various factors, such as the severity of symptoms, potential side effects and individual preferences, before determining the appropriate course of action.

Moreover, psychiatrists often adopt a holistic approach to treatment, integrating medication with other therapeutic options, such as talk therapy, lifestyle modifications and supportive interventions. This collaborative and patient-centered approach is meant to empower individuals on their mental health journey and ensure that treatment aligns with their unique needs and preferences.

More providers who prescribe medication for mental health

Primary care physicians (PCPs)

Primary care physicians are medical doctors (MD or DO) who have completed medical school and a residency in family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. While their primary focus is not psychiatry, they often have substantial experience managing common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

PCPs can prescribe psychiatric medications, particularly for more common conditions. They may refer patients with complex or severe mental health issues to psychiatrists for specialized care.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs)

Nurse practitioners have advanced nursing degrees (master’s or doctorate) and specialized training in various fields, including psychiatry. Physician assistants have master’s degrees and are trained to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician, with some specializing in psychiatry.

Both NPs and PAs can prescribe psychiatric medications in most states, though their scope of practice can vary based on state laws and regulations. Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) have specialized training in psychiatry and can provide comprehensive mental health care, including prescribing medications.

Providers who can’t prescribe medication

Although psychologists can’t prescribe medication, they often have patients who need it and work with prescribers to facilitate it. Other providers operate similarly. Pharmacists with specialized training in psychiatric medications are a resource for a prescription. They collaborate with other health care providers to optimize medication therapy for mental health conditions but do not typically prescribe medications independently.

Social workers and counselors are other providers who work closely with people on their mental health conditions. They have master’s degrees in social work (MSW) or counseling (MHC) and are licensed to provide therapy. They do not prescribe medications but often work in tandem with prescribing professionals to ensure holistic care.

How we can help

When you consider who prescribes medication for mental health conditions, a range of health care professionals populate that list, with each bringing unique training and expertise to the table. However, if you are having a mental health crisis, there are resources available like 988, the national suicide and crisis helpline.

If you think medication is the right treatment option for you and you are not already working with a mental health professional, you can start with your primary care physician. They understand your personal health history and can guide you in making informed decisions. This may mean prescribing you medication directly or referring you to a mental health professional, or even both.

Learn about the behavioral and mental health services we offer at Bon Secours.

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