Can Therapists Diagnose Mental Health Issues?

Yes, but only if they’re licensed — there are also some common types of mental health providers who can’t diagnose
Medically Reviewed by
Dr Hamilton
A woman with glasses looks off into the distance while cogs and mechanisms whirr in her brain. Does she need a diagnosis?
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If you’ve been experiencing some mental health problems recently, you might be wondering if you need a diagnosis — and whether a therapist can diagnose you. (For the purposes of this article, when we say ‘therapist’ we mean a psychotherapist, someone who’s clinically trained and licensed to treat a range of mental illnesses.) 

For many people, the concept of a diagnosis is tightly linked to medical professionals, and therapists don’t have medical degrees. But when it comes to mental illness, medical doctors aren’t the only ones who can make diagnoses.

While your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist can make a diagnosis and prescribe medication, they’re unlikely to provide therapeutic treatment. On the other hand, therapists, while they can’t prescribe medication, are licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health issues — and they’re usually much better equipped to diagnose emotional or behavioral disorders than your medical doctor would be since their education and training is focused on mental health care.

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A woman puts a hand to her chin, wondering if she needs a diagnosis
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Types of therapists who can diagnose

It takes a certain amount of education and training to identify the range of symptoms each mental illness might cause, and to differentiate among various, often similar mental disorders. For this reason, there are two main kinds of therapists who can make mental health diagnoses:

  1. Psychologists: Licensed psychologists have completed their doctoral degree, and their training and licensure enable them to diagnose — they can’t prescribe medication, but they often work closely with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor to manage patients’ medication. Psychologists often have a deep understanding of the kinds of therapeutic treatments available, and they’re also trained in administering emotional and behavioral therapy.
  2. Licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, clinicians, and clinical social workers. Whether they operate as private practices or work for a clinic, these licensed providers — sometimes called ‘counselors’ as well as therapists — are empowered to diagnose and treat a variety of mental health and substance use disorders.

You can also get a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or, in many cases, from your primary care doctor. General practitioners don’t offer therapy, but they can prescribe medication and will refer you to a therapist or other specialist if you need it.

Mental health providers who don’t diagnose — but can still help

Not all mental health care providers can diagnose, but that doesn't mean they’re not equipped to help you manage your symptoms effectively. These providers include:

  1. Behavioral coaches. While they may not be licensed to diagnose, many behavioral coaches are highly skilled and trained in evidence-based therapy techniques. For example, Youper’s providers are all experts in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been proven to be the most effective therapy for anxiety and depression.
  2. Religious counselors. Many people seek guidance and counseling from their pastor or other religious leaders — these counselors are trained to offer a sympathetic ear and the wisdom of their experience, but unless they hold a clinical degree they’re unable to provide a diagnosis. 
  3. Peer counselors. Many mental health and substance use programs are set up to be run by peer specialists with experience and training in a range of mental health issues — often they’ve experienced or overcome the very problems they’re helping people with. They may also be certified by some sort of overseeing body, but there’s no rule that they have to be licensed.
  4. Social workers (non-clinical). Unlike clinical social workers, these professionals have a bachelor’s degree and provide services like case management, placement services, and other kinds of support to improve their clients’ lives.

When it comes to more common behavioral or mental health issues, a diagnosis is sometimes less important than an effective plan of action. Yes, it may take a diagnosis to get the right plan, but especially if you’re dealing with depression or anxiety it’s crucial to get help as soon as possible. The sooner you start, the faster you’ll begin feeling better.

With Youper, you can get the care you need, when you need it. Our mental health care model combines the empathy and active listening of caring providers with the constant support of our 24/7 therapy chat. We believe you can feel better, and we want to help you get there.

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