A mental health professional is a health care practitioner or social and human services provider who offers services for the purpose of improving an individual’s mental health or to treat mental disorders. This broad category was developed as a name for community personnel who worked in the new community mental health agencies begun in the 1970s to assist individuals moving from state hospitals, to prevent admissions, and to provide support in homes, jobs, education, and community. These individuals (i.e., state office personnel, private sector personnel, and non-profit, now voluntary sector personnel) were the forefront brigade to develop the community programs, which today may be referred to by names such as supported housing, psychiatric rehabilitation, supported or transitional employment, sheltered workshops, supported education, daily living skills, affirmative industries, dual diagnosis treatment, individual and family psychoeducation, adult day care, foster care, family services and mental health counseling.
Psychiatrists – physicians who use the biomedical model to treat mental health problems – may prescribe medication. The term counselors often refers to office-based professionals who offer therapy sessions to their clients, operated by organizations such as pastoral counseling (which may or may not work with long term services clients) and family counselors. Mental health counselors may refer to counselors working in residential services in the field of mental health in community programs.